First residential structure at new stadium to be named ‘The Beauford Delaney Building’

Conceptual rendering of The Beauford Delaney Building

The first residential structure at the new Knoxville stadium will be named “The Beauford Delaney Building” in honor of the internationally acclaimed artist whose original childhood home stood one block from the site of the transformational project on the edge of the Old City.

Downtown Knoxville-based Partners Development will serve as the developer for the $45 million project, and the building is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2024 to coincide with the Knoxville Smokies’ debut baseball season at the new stadium.

The name of the first building on the stadium site is the result of GEM Community Development Group’s partnership with a cultural and historical advisory committee led by Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

“Beauford Delaney is by far the most important artist of the 20th century; his influence on the world of art cannot be overstated,” Kesler said. “His works are extensively exhibited in museums, galleries and private collections all over the world. Naming the first residential building in this location after our native son is a historic step toward prominently and intentionally exhibiting the rich legacy of Black heritage. GEM Community Development Group is making good on the promise to preserve Black history and culture in the heart of this community known as The Bottom.”

The nine-story building, which will consist of 35-45 condos depending on final layout, will include underground parking for residential units; restaurant, retail and commercial space on the ground floor; and city-view units on the second and third floors. The fourth floor will be an amenity floor with an outdoor platform deck to view all stadium events, as well as grilling areas, fire pits and gathering spaces. The fourth floor also will contain fitness and business centers and a party room with a kitchen. Views of home plate will be available for units on the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth floors.

“This project is something our company wanted to be involved in because of the impact on the community, transformation of a blighted area and the chance to offer a one-of-a-kind residential experience in Knoxville that can’t be duplicated anywhere else in the city,” said Russ Watkins, president and CEO of Partners Development, which also is serving as overall project manager for GEM Community Development Group. “We wanted to provide every condo on the upper floors with a view of home plate. Residents will have the option of viewing the inside of the stadium or picturesque views of the city facing East, North or South.”

Conceptual rendering of The Beauford Delaney Building

The cultural and historical advisory committee led by Kesler has advised the development team from the beginning on being intentional about capturing the rich Black history and culture of the location of the project, as well as reflecting the multi-racial history of baseball in the community.

GEM Community Development Group seeks to bring more than $100 million in private investment to complement the new multi-use stadium and is the private development partner to Boyd Sports, which operates the Smokies baseball team.

“We promised that this project would reflect the historical significance of the community and be true to its East Knoxville roots,” said Steve Davis, president of GEM Community Development Group, which derives its name from the historic Gem Theatre, a gathering point for the Black community that opened in 1913 and closed 50 years later. “Naming the first building after renowned artist Beauford Delaney and elevating cultural awareness is just one step in our efforts to preserve Black history at the stadium site.”

The original home of Delaney, a modernist painter born in 1901 and considered among the greatest abstract painters of the 20th century, was razed decades ago and is now denoted by a historical marker on a hill that overlooks the project site. Delaney’s colorful, expressive style captured his experiences in Knoxville, Boston and New York City, where he was associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Delaney lived his final decades abroad in Paris, where he died in 1979, and he maintained close ties to Knoxville and his family throughout his life.

James Baldwin, Beauford Delaney and Lucien Happersberger in Paris 1953. (Photo: Legacy Project Chicago)

The Delaney family later bought a home at 1935 Dandridge Ave., less than a mile from the stadium site and adjacent to what is now the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. Beck has launched a fundraiser to support the restoration of the Delaneys’ only remaining ancestral home and preserve the extraordinary piece of Knoxville history as the future Delaney Museum at Beck.

The multi-use stadium – with a capacity of 7,000 – will host the Knoxville Smokies and other baseball events, soccer, concerts, festivals and farmers’ markets. In addition, the stadium will include facilities to host business meetings, conferences, family reunions, receptions, holiday parties and other year-round events. With the stadium facilities and two public plazas as gathering places, it is anticipated that the stadium can host hundreds of events a year.

Knoxville City Council and Knox County Commission gave the go-ahead for the publicly owned stadium in mid-November 2021. Construction is expected to start in 2022.

Conceptual rendering of The Beauford Delaney Building

The Sports Authority for Knoxville and Knox County will be finalizing arrangements for stadium construction, along with lease agreements with Boyd Sports, which will bring the Smokies, the Minor League Baseball Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, back to Knoxville from Sevier County. Boyd Sports is owned by Knoxville businessman and entrepreneur Randy Boyd.

The stadium will be located in the heart of a neighborhood eliminated 50 years ago by urban renewal, including Delaney’s childhood home, that was dubbed the Riverfront-Willow Street project in an area known to residents as The Bottom.

“In order to understand what was lost, it’s important to establish the history of what was once here,” Kesler said. “Randy Boyd and his team are making good on the promise to preserve Black history and culture at the stadium complex. After working with Randy Boyd and his team for more than a year, we are convinced their approach toward Black history and culture is the right one.

“Their understanding of and dedication to the cultural significance of this project cannot be overstated. The investments already made and the projected investments to be made in this historic Black community are commensurate with a firm commitment to heed the lessons of history.”