OPINION

Knoxville shouldn't let second chance for a baseball stadium slip away | Opinion

Randy Boyd's proposal would bring back the Smokies while benefiting East Knoxville with a public amenity that supports private development.

Michael Edwards
Guest columnist
  • Michael Edwards is the former president and CEO of the Knoxville Chamber. He retired in 2019.

As kids we were all familiar with the concept of a do-over: you’re in a game, something goes wrong and you start over with a new pitch. The game goes on. 

In life we don’t often get that chance, but Knoxville and Knox County are getting a do-over with the baseball stadium proposed for the Old City by Tennessse Smokies owner Randy Boyd.  

Two decades ago, we had a baseball stadium and a minor league team in Knoxville. When Bill Meyers Stadium, located at the current site of Caswell Park, no longer met the standards for a modern team, we had a chance to keep the Smokies here with a new stadium. We looked at multiple sites, we heard lots of opinions about what government should and shouldn’t do to keep a franchise in town, and in the end, we struck out.

Although most of us didn’t think it possible, the team moved down the road to Sevierville. That was the end of minor league baseball in Knoxville. Until now. 

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.

This blighted area of the Old City could continue to languish as a mix of dilapidated warehouse and industrial sites, or it can be revitalized with a public amenity that supports private development that would never go here otherwise. I hope that we will choose the latter strategy. 

Retiring Knoxville Chamber of Commerce CEO Mike Edwards poses for a photo in the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce in Market Square Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018.

I grew up in East Knoxville and watched many games at Bill Meyers Stadium. It was an important part of the community, and the current stadium proposal will do even more to serve it, since it is being designed to support not only baseball but other entertainment and recreational uses. Its location on the fringes of the Old City will help extend the economic benefits of downtown’s renaissance to East Knoxville, complementing investments by the city and others in the community. 

We also have the advantage now of a partner who is committed to Knoxville. A successful entrepreneur and president of the University of Tennessee System, Boyd has shared his success with many local charities and provided longtime support of initiatives ranging from dog parks to innovative last-dollar scholarships for low-income students.

He has been a dedicated public servant in state government, a visionary leader for the University of Tennessee, and now, a businessman who has already put his own capital at risk in support of this effort.  

We are well positioned as a community to bring baseball back to Knoxville, and to do so in a way that brings multiple other benefits. And so far, elected officials who will have the final say appear to be receptive to the plan. But that does not make this a done deal.

We must finish strong and see this process through to the end so that years from now we will not be talking about how we lost baseball in Knoxville … twice.  

Michael Edwards is the former president and CEO of the Knoxville Chamber. He retired in 2019.