KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Emails obtained from the City of Knoxville show Tennessee Smokies owner Randy Boyd and city officials had discussions as early as 2014 to move the team to Knoxville. Boyd purchased the Knox Rail Salvage site last week, fueling speculation that the Smokies would be moving there.
An email dated in May 2014 from City Councilman George Wallace to Deputy Mayor Bill Lyons suggested relocating the team to Chilhowee Park in East Knoxville.
“Take a look at the new stadium proposed for the Atlanta Braves and think about how well a baseball stadium would complement the Zoo, development of the Magnolia corridor and what a dinosaur the park is now,” he wrote. Lyons said he would discuss the idea with Boyd.
In August 2014, J. Laurens Tullock, president of Cornerstone Foundation of Knoxville, wrote Lyons and Director of Redevelopment Bob Whetsel saying it was his job to find a site for a new baseball stadium. An email from later that month reveals possible sites two possible sites. One was north of the Old City where the former White Lily flour headquarters had been converted into residential apartments. Tullock said any stadium plans would have to incorporate the apartments into the plan.
Web Extra: Read the emails [PDF]
The second site was east of the Old City at the former site of Lay’s Meat Packing plant, all of which was now vacant property.
Boyd discussed the payoff schedule of the current Smokies Stadium in Kodak with Branscom in February of this year. She had wanted to meet to discuss future plans for the auditorium and coliseum, as well as baseball. Boyd agreed to the meeting saying his current plan was to wait until the last year or two of his lease with Sevierville and Sevier County to make any moves, to avoid penalties. He also said, however, a “win-win” agreement with Sevier County and Sevierville was also a possibility.
Another email from Bill Lyons to Mayor Madeline Rogero and Branscom in August of this year discussed how the city of Columbia, South Carolina, was paying for a new stadium there.
Many people in Knoxville say they’ve missed baseball being so close.
“I was thinking what happened to the good old days when baseball was downtown?” asked Hunter Wright.
Boyd says it’s “no secret” he’s been exploring different options for the Smokies, but nothing is set yet. He says eight years remain in his stadium agreement with Sevierville and Sevier County.
Branscom says so far there are no proposals or a timeline yet for the possible project. Adding this is a project that needs to be discussed because there are many ways to achieve a stadium.
“If this came about and it was decided this would become a baseball stadium, then it would take a lot of years to do. It would take some programming, some architectural designs, and then of course some kind of funding plan once we knew what the ask would even be. But at this point we really don’t have any idea,” she said.
Branscom says it’s too soon to know what the city’s role would be and if getting a stadium would financially impact other big projects.
“Knoxville made a big mistake by letting it leave the city. So they should do everything they can to help it come back,” said Davin.
With much still up in the air, city leaders say they’re not sure if there’s a market in Knoxville for two minor league baseball teams. But they’ll have to look into regulations and rules for teams.
Boyd says he has made no final plans for the Knox Rail Salvage property, but that he had his eyes on it for a while.
“It’s really hard to say at this point in time. I don’t know,” said Deputy Mayor Christi Branscom when asked if there were plans to put the stadium on the Knox Rail Salvage property or another area park.
Boyd said there wouldn’t be any conflicts with this project while he serves as Commissioner of Tennessee’s Department Economic and Community Development.
“I was very active in this community and region long before I joined ECD and plan to continue to be as active as possible,” he said in a statement.