Through formal partnerships with the Knoxville Area Urban League, Beck Cultural Exchange Center, local schools and youth organizations, GEM Community Development Group will ensure that East Knoxville reaps specific benefits from the proposed mixed-use stadium and surrounding development.
“This is a transformational project for East Knoxville, the members of its business and residential communities and specifically the African American community,” said Steve Davis, president of GEM Community Development Group. “I would not be involved in this project if it were just another development opportunity. I am doing it to give something back to my hometown and the people with whom I grew up. This development site will produce tangible benefits and results and reinvigorate an area that has long been in neglect.”
Davis, a successful businessman and former University of Tennessee football player, said the most important benefit for the East Knoxville community is the addition of jobs in the area.
“The average family income in this ZIP code is $17,000 per year,” Davis said. “Supporting more than 3,000 jobs in the area will be the most impactful aspect of the development. The initiative also includes identifying minority entrepreneurs who want to establish a business in the area.”
GEM Community Development Group has:
• Entered into an agreement with the Knoxville Area Urban League with the intention that at least 15 percent of the contractors and subcontractors on the project are classified as “disadvantaged business enterprises” (DBE) by the City of Knoxville; to identify minority entrepreneurs who want to open businesses in the development; to train people who want to become entrepreneurs; and to assist with training and placement of individuals for available jobs. “I want to be sure the Black community specifically benefits from this project,” Davis said.
• Announced plans to establish an apprenticeship program for people in the community to learn skills not only to participate in this project, but also to develop lifelong skills that can lead to better jobs and a better life.
• Established a cultural and historical advisory committee led by Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. The committee is charged with advising the development team on being intentional about capturing the rich African American history and culture of the location of the project, as well as reflecting the multi-racial history of baseball in the community.
• Committed to plans to fund the expansion of youth baseball and softball at Claude Walker Park and Ballfields in East Knoxville.
• Committed funds to build a playground at Green Magnet Academy.
• Committed to recruit locally owned businesses to open in the commercial development around the stadium. For example, Jackie’s Dream soul food restaurant has been invited to relocate there at below market rates.
• In addition, Davis has entered a partnership agreement with Pellissippi State Community College to expand his Chicago-based “Tuskegee Next” program which, based on the legacy of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, provides a clear path to aviation careers for at-risk youth.
“I understand there are discussions about a ‘community benefits agreement’ being proposed,” Davis said. “We believe that our agreements with the City of Knoxville, Knox County and Knoxville Area Urban League, and working with the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, Pellissippi State and individual schools, youth groups and businesses will lead to the progress, diversity and opportunity that we all want to achieve.”
Davis added that the Knoxville Area Urban League, Beck Cultural Exchange Center and other organizations are “established stalwarts of the community” with a decades-long track record of delivering on commitments.
“Members of the development team have been meeting with key members of the East Knoxville community for more than a year to accumulate input and suggestions,” Davis said. “Community engagement has been a priority for us from the beginning. We met with numerous key players in the community even before the project was announced.”
Stephanie Welch, the city’s chief economic and community development officer and deputy to the mayor, said the city and county continue to gather input from citizens.
“We are continuing to listen to the community, which may result in the identification of additional agreements,” Welch said. “These benefits will be formalized through the development/lease agreements.”