Weston Wamp Calls For Open, Deliberative Process On Proposed Southside Stadium

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Republican county mayor nominee Weston Wamp said Tuesday that there should be a deliberative, transparent process with public participation regarding a proposed $79.5 million community stadium.

He spoke at a fundraiser at the Gilman Building attended by Governor Bill Lee.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger earlier said he hopes to have the stadium plan in place before he leaves office.

That is two months away. He and Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly are strongly supporting the proposal for the long-vacant U.S. Pipe/Wheland site. 

Mr. Wamp said Knoxville had "an open process" for over a year that included public meetings before deciding to go forward with a similar stadium proposal.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs was among those speaking at the fundraiser.

Mr. Wamp said Knoxville used "a model we could all look to."

He noted that in recent days "there have been tumultuous times with rising interest rates" affecting such public projects negatively. 

The Knoxville stadium gained approval last December. It is to have Boyd Sports (former gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd) build the multi-use, publicly owned facility. It will host the AA team of the Chicago Cubs just as the Southside facility is to host the Lookouts.

As part of the Knoxville project, GEM Community Development Group, the private development arm of Boyd Sports, is to undertake a major private development to complement the stadium.

Mr. Boyd is giving the land for the project, just as Gary Chazen is donating nine acres for the stadium here. A master developer has been brought in for the Southside project.

A Knoxville stadium website said the development group "plans to rejuvenate an area of Knoxville that’s been overlooked for decades. GEM derives its name from East Knoxville’s historic Gem Theatre, a gathering point for the Black community that opened in 1913 and closed 50 years later.

"The multi-use stadium will host the Smokies and other baseball events, concerts, festivals and even football and soccer. In addition, the stadium will include facilities to host business meetings, conferences, receptions, holiday parties and other year-round events. With the stadium facilities and a public plaza as a gathering place, it is anticipated the stadium can host hundreds of events a year. GEM's private development is anticipated to include residential buildings, restaurants and other entertainment and commercial uses."

Funding to build the 7,000-capacity ballpark will come through a Sports Authority jointly formed by Knoxville and Knox County, with support from Knoxville and Knox County. The cost estimate in 2021 for the stadium is $80.5 million, up from $65 million in 2019 "because of the rising prices of steel and other materials due to COVID-19 pandemic-related inflation."

The plan here also is to form a Sports Authority, and the listed price tag is similar to that given in Knoxville.

In Knoxville's case a $13 million grant was awarded in 2021 by the state of Tennessee "that reduces the amount that would have to be borrowed to pay for construction to $65.2 million, keeping the project on the same financial track. The stadium will be publicly owned and will be leased to the team on typical industry terms."

Officials said a Tax Increment Financing district is to be set up at the foundry site to help fund the project.

Lookouts managing owner Jason Freier earlier said that, though AT&T Field is just 22 years old, it was not built well and has not been well maintained. 


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