New stadium starts to take shape

Construction crews work at the site of the new Knoxville stadium, which is expected to open in 2025. (Knox News photo by Brianna Paciorka)

All I want for Christmas is a new stadium … and it’s now only going to be a little over a year until baseball returns to Knoxville for the first time in 25 years.

The first blog post on Grand Slam Knox was published Dec. 23, 2020, after this site was created to keep up with developments as multiple entities worked together to make the vision of a stadium become a reality. This latest blog post shows a photo by Brianna Paciorka of Knox News and a full gallery from early December is available HERE. What once was an assortment of abandoned buildings and overgrown lots is now visibly taking shape into a stadium.

This site has a new feature near the top of the page with an image of a Smokies player swinging and the words BATTER UP. One click lands on the Tennessee Smokies baseball website, which updates all the happenings with the team as it heads into the 2024 season. The new stadium is expected to open in 2025 and host the debut of the new Knoxville Smokies – the team’s moniker when it played its last season in Knoxville in 1999.

The Smokies won the 2023 Southern League championship – that post can be read HERE – after winning four straight games to close the regular season and then sweeping the postseason in four games over two series. Tennessee wasn’t favored to win, but that’s part of the beauty of baseball.

As I have noted in this space before, I have lived in East Tennessee since 1988 and, to quote actor James Earl Jones as Terence Mann in “Field of Dreams,” the one constant through all the years is baseball. Through an assortment of moves in Knox, Blount and Sevier counties, the one constant was baseball from Bill Meyer Stadium in Knoxville to Smokies Stadium in Kodak. Depending on where I was living, the trip could be anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes from my home to the stadium. It didn’t matter. I was going to watch baseball.

While I never wanted baseball to move from Knoxville, I appreciated the way Sevier County stepped up to keep the Smokies in East Tennessee. The question folks have been asking is what happens to Smokies Stadium?

The land where the stadium sits off Interstate 40 is a lot more valuable than it was 25 years ago. Development has popped up all over exit 407 from Buc-ee’s to “The 407: Gateway to Adventure,” an initiative by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, developers and community leaders for a new entertainment district called Smoky Gap that will include retail, restaurants, Sports Illustrated Resort, Cherokee history attraction and a new Marriott property hotel.

This story by Knox News reporter Silas Stone with Sevierville City Administrator Russell Treadway made clear the property is being eyed by developers. The story noted: There have been a number of inquiries from interested parties, Treadway said, and proposals for the site range from mixed use to commercial spaces to amusement attractions.

In 2022, 15.76 million cars used Exit 407. The area is so congested that an additional exit is being planned, although construction on the nearly $189 million project won’t start until 2030, according to this story.

In the meantime, the Smokies hold the lease until March 2025, so any firm plans for the land aren’t likely to be revealed until after that ends.

If the stadium were to be demolished – and that seems to be the most likely at this point given how valuable the land is – I need to ask the Smokies for my seat. I’ve been on the front row down the third base line for long stretches of time since the team moved in 2020, and that seat might as well stay with me.

I look forward to being back in it in 2024. And I most look forward to opening day in Knoxville in 2025.

Maria Cornelius, a senior writer/editor for MoxCar Marketing + Communications, is a lifelong baseball fan and longtime Smokies season ticket holder.