Boyd Sports, LLC, which owns the Tennessee Smokies baseball team, has agreed to hold discussions with leaders of a United Soccer League team about playing at a newly proposed multi-use stadium in East Knoxville if the project goes forward.
The non-binding agreement between Boyd Sports and the local United Soccer League group to enter discussions is dependent on the approval of a new stadium by the City of Knoxville and Knox County and on Boyd Sports, LLC, being selected to manage the new stadium.
Drew McKenna, one of the founders of Knox Pro Soccer, said his group has reviewed the design and field layout of the proposed stadium, which would be the home of the Tennessee Smokies baseball team, the AA club of the Chicago Cubs.
“I’m a massive Cubs fan so I’d be thrilled to have the Smokies in downtown Knoxville,” McKenna said. “And this project is so much more than bringing a baseball team to town. We are excited to see how effective the stadium will be in catering not just to baseball, but also to other rectangular sports including soccer, football and lacrosse.”
The $65 million publicly owned stadium, which has been proposed by GEM Community Development Group, would be located on the edge of the Old City. The stadium would be surrounded by more than $100 million in private development of restaurants, retail establishments and residences.
“We have said since the beginning that the stadium would be multiuse,” said Randy Boyd, founder of Boyd Sports. “The design of the stadium allows for other sports, such as soccer, and multiple other community events that can fill the seats throughout the year. We look forward to meeting with the local United Soccer League group to discuss any possibilities going forward.”
Both mayors voiced their support of Boyd Sports and Knox Pro Soccer entering an agreement to discuss using the proposed stadium for other sports in addition to baseball.
“We’ve said all along: If this stadium project proceeds, it will be a community amenity that’s much more than just a place to play and watch professional baseball,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “It will be a space for everyone to enjoy. This non-binding Boyd Sports agreement further demonstrates a good-faith commitment to designing a multi-use stadium to accommodate many different uses, and we all know, Knoxville is a fútbol town!”
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said, “This is an exciting opportunity for the community and this facility. We could see not only soccer and baseball, but a host of other sports spanning from Little League to collegiate and minor league teams. Add this to the concerts and other entertainment we expect, and I know the facility will be a great venue for Knox Countians as well as a major driver for regional tourism.”
Populous, a Kansas City-based multinational architectural and design practice specializing in sports facilities, arenas and convention centers, has designed the Knoxville stadium to fit more than just a baseball team.
In addition to sports, the multi-use facility also would accommodate concerts, farmers’ markets and other community events.
“There are baseball stadiums where soccer and football happen,” McKenna said. “And then there are multi-use stadiums that actually are built for both. The plans for this stadium definitely fall in the latter category.”
McKenna said his group also analyzed the performance of other United Soccer League clubs to determine best practices and realized a new facility would be needed to be successful in Knoxville.
“There is not an existing facility in Knoxville that can house the fan base we expect to foster,” he said. “We have high aspirations for the type of support we can engender and the attendance numbers we can generate. We want that excitement to stay in downtown Knoxville. This stadium uniquely offers that opportunity.”
Until a new stadium is built in Knoxville, hopefully within two years, McKenna said the new United Soccer League (USL) team will play at a different location that has not yet been announced. The local team intends to start playing in 2022.