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Tennessee Smokies to return to Knoxville after 2 decades

November 18, 2021 GMT

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) —

The Tennessee Smokies minor league baseball team will return to Knoxville after a two-decade absence thanks to an agreement among local officials to help fund a new stadium, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

The former Knoxville Smokies relocated to Kodak, outside of Sevierville, in 2000 after they were lured away with promises of a new stadium and larger public subsidy. Now team owner Randy Boyd plans to bring them back with an even bigger stadium complex after the Knoxville City Council voted this week to help fund the $74.5 million project. Other participants in the agreement include Knox County and the Knoxville Knox County Sports Authority.

The 5-1-2 vote came after requests for an agreement on minimum worker pay and other assurances were denied. Boyd, who is also the University of Tennessee System president, has said guarantees on labor issues are unneeded, pointing to his commitment to the community.

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The development is planned for the Old City neighborhood near downtown Knoxville, where the ballpark will be the centerpiece of a development on property that Boyd will donate to the city and county. Boyd also has promised to bring at least $142 million in private money to build 630,000 square feet (58,500 square meters) of restaurants, retail shops and residences around the stadium.

The Smokies are a Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs and the project is planned to model the Wrigleyville neighborhood that surrounds Wrigley Field on Chicago’s north side.

The newly formed One Knoxville Sporting Club also plans to play its home soccer games at the stadium, which will be configured to allow other events.

Lease and development agreements still have to be approved by the Sports Authority, but the County Commission and City Council do not have a say in them. Officials would like construction to begin in January with the team opening the season in Knoxville in spring 2024.

The expected debt payment is roughly $3.2 million combined for the city and county each year. That will be offset by the team’s rent payment, a payment in lieu of taxes, and sales tax revenues from the ballpark and surrounding retail complex. If all goes as predicted, the complex would begin to pay for itself by year 10, officials said.