Tennessee Smokies owner looking for “public-private partnership” to build new stadium in Knoxville, here we go

All this talk of Covid infection control protocols is fun to pass the time, but I know you’re all wondering: When are some rich dudes going to resume the real national pastime of grubbing for taxpayer dollars to build sports stadiums? And today you shall wait no longer, because Randy Boyd, multimillionaire invisible dog fence baron, failed gubernatorial candidate, University of Tennessee president, and Tennessee Smokies owner, has asked the city of Knoxville to build him a new stadium. The basics:

  • The Smokies currently play in Kodak, about 15 miles east of Knoxville, having moved there from the city when a new stadium was built for them by Sevier County in 2000.
  • Their lease expires in March 2025, but Boyd can leave early if he buys out the remaining years, which would cost him either around $10 million or $300,000 a year, depending on which news source you believe.
  • Boyd spent $6 million in 2016 to buy seven acres of land in Knoxville that he hopes to use for a stadium.
  • Knoxville Chief Economic and Community Development Officer Stephanie Welch says the city is exploring funding options, and is “excited about exploring the opportunity with other partners” and seeking a “public-private partnership”; this translates as “Boyd doesn’t wanna pay for all of it, so we’re trying to find some local business suckers to split the cost with the city.” There’s also talk of a “mixed-use development” on the site, which would be a lot to fit on Boyd’s 11 total acres along with a ballpark, but is definitely the kind of thing you say when you’re looking for ways to involve other investors.
  • Are there renderings? Do they involve ballplayers the size of Volkswagens standing in positions bearing little resemblance to actual baseball? You bet they do:

This is all just the kicking-the-tires stage, but it’s certainly worth noting that Knoxville officials seem perfectly eager to throw some kind of public money at a new stadium even in the midst of a pandemic recession that has forced budget cuts to such things as libraries and public health. And that’s before Boyd has even rattled any sabers about moving out of the Knoxville area entirely — don’t forget that once minor-league baseball restarts, it will likely be without 42 affiliated teams including the Chattanooga Lookouts, any one of whose cities could be interested (or at least cast as interested) in becoming the new home of the Smokies. I know it may seem like the world has changed irrevocably under Covid, but the underlying business model of the sports industry and its relationship to local political forces is still there, waiting patiently for this to all be over. Or not so patiently, if there’s an expiring lease and an unemployed sketch artist with no sense of proportion ready and waiting to go.

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