Community benefits ensure participation of minority businesses

The GEM Community Development Group will ensure that East Knoxville reaps specific benefits from the proposed mixed-use stadium through formal partnerships with the Knoxville Area Urban League, Beck Cultural Exchange Center, local schools and youth organizations.

Steve Davis, president of GEM Community Development Group and a former University of Tennessee football player, understands that the biggest need in the community is new jobs and opportunities for a long-term career. The proposed multi-use stadium would be located on the edge of the Old City in East Knoxville.

“This is a transformational project for East Knoxville, the members of its business and residential communities and specifically the African American community I would not be involved in this project if it were just another development opportunity.”

Steve Davis, president of GEM Community Development Group

Discussions about a community benefits agreement have emerged recently among some voices, and Davis pointed out that GEM Community Development Group, the private development partner to Boyd Sports, will lead the major private development to complement the stadium and has been meeting with East Knoxville community members and leaders for more than a year.

Steve Davis

“I understand there are discussions about a ‘community benefits agreement’ being proposed,” Davis said. “We believe that our agreements with the City of Knoxville, Knox County and Knoxville Area Urban League, and working with the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, Pellissippi State and individual schools, youth groups and businesses will lead to the progress, diversity and opportunity that we all want to achieve.”

GEM Community Development Group has:
• Entered into an agreement with the Knoxville Area Urban League with the intention that at least 15 percent of the contractors and subcontractors on the project are classified as “disadvantaged business enterprises” (DBE) by the City of Knoxville; to identify minority entrepreneurs who want to open businesses in the development; to train people who want to become entrepreneurs; and to assist with training and placement of individuals for available jobs.

• Announced plans to establish an apprenticeship program for people in the community to learn skills not only to participate in this project, but also to develop lifelong skills that can lead to better jobs and a better life.

• Established a cultural and historical advisory committee led by Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. The committee is charged with advising the development team on being intentional about capturing the rich African American history and culture of the location of the project, as well as reflecting the multi-racial history of baseball in the community.

• Committed to plans to fund the expansion of youth baseball and softball at Claude Walker Park and Ballfields in East Knoxville.

• Committed funds to build a playground at Green Magnet Academy.

• Committed to recruit locally owned businesses to open in the commercial development around the stadium. For example, Jackie’s Dream soul food restaurant has been invited to relocate there at below market rates.

• In addition, Davis has entered a partnership agreement with Pellissippi State Community College to expand his Chicago-based “Tuskegee Next” program which, based on the legacy of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, provides a clear path to aviation careers for at-risk youth.

“I am doing it to give something back to my hometown and the people with whom I grew up,” Davis said. “This development site will produce tangible benefits and results and reinvigorate an area that has long been in neglect.”

The multi-use stadium has always been about so much more than baseball. The sports and entertainment complex would host soccer, concerts, festivals, farmers’ markets, conferences, receptions, holiday parties and other events. 

It also will transform a community.

“The average family income in this ZIP code is $17,000 per year,” Davis said. “Supporting more than 3,000 jobs in the area will be the most impactful aspect of the development. The initiative also includes identifying minority entrepreneurs who want to establish a business in the area.”

Let’s do this, Knoxville.