‘More than just baseball’
An informational meeting to ask questions about the proposal to build a multi-use stadium in Knoxville’s center city yielded two important outcomes – support from both mayors and the ability to do so without a tax increase.
The public meeting, held virtually March 25, provided a way for people to ask questions and get answers from Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Knox County Chief Financial Officer Chris Caldwell, Knoxville Chief Economic and Community Development Officer Stephanie Welch and Mark Mamantov, bond counsel to both the city and the county. Rebekah Jane Justice, deputy chief of Economic and Community Development for the city, and Boyd Sports CEO Doug Kirchhofer also attended to share information.
Jacobs, whose libertarian background, led him to initially oppose the proposal, wholeheartedly endorses it now.
“This is a multi-use, multi-purpose facility with an anchor tenant that will form the foundation of one of the largest economic development projects in county history,” Jacobs said. “In fact, I believe that the financing package we have assembled, one that includes $140 million in private development and most importantly, no additional tax burden on our taxpayers, will be the model for municipal stadiums and arenas going forward.”
Kincannon said, “This project is about so much more than just baseball, and I will be excited, hopefully, along with so many others, to see baseball back in Knoxville, very close to its original roots. But this project is really about investing in our community. It’s an opportunity to revitalize and bring new life to a blighted area that has sat vacant for 20 years, it’s about jobs, and a location connected with protected, affordable, and mixed-income housing.”
Jacobs underscored the fact that any sales tax diverted from the area to help retire stadium debt would not take away from current coffers for the following simple reason.
“The resources that we’re talking about here do not currently exist,” Jacobs said. “So when folks are talking about diverting resources, they ain’t there to begin with at all, and the only way that they are there is if this project moves forward.”
The revenue streams include a lease the team would pay for the use of the stadium, sales taxes generated by the stadium, payments in lieu of taxes from the private development and sales taxes from an area surrounding the project, pending the creation of a special sales-tax district by the state Legislature. The city and county would have to make up any difference between the new revenues and the debt service payment totals.
Though the exact figures haven’t been worked out, Mamantov said the city and county could easily meet that obligation without a tax increase.
Caldwell said the county plans to use revenue from its hotel/motel tax to cover its portion of any shortfall. Welch said the city can easily afford it as well.
A publicly financed stadium would cost approximately $65 million and will be built in a blighted area on the edge of the Old City. Smokies owner Randy Boyd and his newly formed GEM Community Development Group have proposed a $100 million+ mixed-use development surrounding the stadium and a partnership with the Knoxville Area Urban League to ensure participation by minority firms and individuals.
Knoxville has a chance to return baseball – and more – to its roots. The project remains in its early planning stages but has gotten on base. Let’s bring it home.