Randy Boyd says groundbreaking for new stadium could come as early as next fall

Tyler Whetstone
Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee Smokies owner Randy Boyd is confident that if things go as planned, crews will be breaking ground next fall on his proposed sports complex in the Old City next fall.

Little in a pandemic-induced 2020 has gone as planned to this point, so looking ahead to 2021 is a bit ambitious, but Boyd’s idea for his Double-A baseball team and new mixed-use home have always been ambitious.

As first reported by Knox News last week, both the city and county’s legislative bodies will be voting on the creation of a sports authority to oversee the construction and operation of the ballpark this month. Both mayors support the idea.

The creation of a sports authority wouldn’t guarantee the project will be done, but it is a necessary step in the process and the most public step to date.

“I think simply the fact that they're continuing to move forward and that the mayors are continuing to express very positive comments and they're willing to set up a sports authority to help be the funding mechanism and oversight mechanism are all really strong signals that they're willing to go forward and bond debt to make this happen,” Boyd told Knox News last week.

More:Knoxville, Knox County leaders consider sports authority to make Old City stadium reality

Neither body has publicly discussed what a finance plan would look like for the stadium. Those conversations would begin in earnest after the creation of the sports authority. It is expected to cost around $52-65 million for a publicly owned stadium.

Randy Boyd, owner of the Tennessee Smokies, presents possible plans for the team's new baseball stadium in Old City in Knoxville, Tenn. on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. Boyd and company are finalizing their ballpark proposal on property he owns downtown.

The ballpark would be the centerpiece of a massive development project that Boyd has promised he could build with $142 million of private funding. The mixed-use facility we be 630,000 square feet of restaurants, retail shops and residences around the stadium. Ideally, Boyd has said, the projects would be completed simultaneously, though that wouldn’t necessarily be a requirement.

More:A new baseball stadium can lift the fortunes of a city, but not all by itself

“A potential schedule would be that the city and the county – (through) the sports authority – bond the project in late spring, early summer of next year, and we would begin construction in the third quarter of 2021,” Boyd said. “The hope – and this is a very aggressive schedule – is being able to say, ‘play ball’ in April of 2023.”

Sports authorities are allowed under state law to keep state sales tax generated by the facility — 7 percent on items like tickets, concessions and merchandise — to be funneled back to the city and county to pay off debt to construct the stadium. Local bond attorney Mark Mamantov told Knox News the sports authority could generate "probably between $300,000-$400,000 a year depending on how the team does."

Renderings of a possible Tennessee Smokies Double A baseball park in Knoxville's Old City with downtown Knoxville in the background.

As to the murmurs of Nashville possibly snagging a Major League Baseball franchise – either by moving an existing team or grabbing an expansion team – Boyd said such a move would be a plus for the Smokies.

Such a move is doubtful for a number of reasons, the least of which is funding: as the Tennessee Lookout has reported, the group – Music City Baseball – had raised just $1.5 million of the likely $1.5 billion that a stadium and expansion fee would cost.

“It's a long shot, but at the same time, it would be really great to see,” Boyd said. “I think the more enthusiasm there is for baseball within the state of Tennessee, the better it is for us.

“I think if a major league team came to Tennessee (it means) more baseball enthusiasts and more chances of people saying, ‘You know, I can't go to Nashville for a major league game, but I'd love to have the baseball experience. I'll come to a Smokies game.’”

Possible timeline

  1. Boyd said the old Knox Rail Salvage property and the giant red-bricked former meatpacking plant would begin to be razed by the end of the year
  2. Early next year city and county leaders hold meetings about a stadium (including public meetings)
  3. More meetings are held before both legislative bodies vote on a financing plan for the stadium sometime in the summer
  4. Groundbreaking could happen as early as late summer, early fall