Knoxville leaders explore proposed plan for Lonsdale youth sports complex

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Knoxville city leaders and the Emerald Youth Foundation are quietly working on a plan to create a sports complex in Knoxville’s Lonsdale neighborhood as a way to keep kids safe and off the streets.

WATE 6 On Your Side obtained a letter from the Emerald Youth Foundation which mentions a “proposed Lonsdale sports and multi-purpose center.”

A few years ago, the city of Knoxville acquired property covering an entire block between Minnesota and Texas Avenues, putting the site for this just across the street from Sam E. Hill preschool. The lots are currently vacant.

While Eric Vreeland, a spokesperson for the city of Knoxville, says it is too premature to suggest anything has been finalized regarding a project on the property in Lonsdale, he did say “we hope to be able to use the city-owned property in Lonsdale in a way that has a positive impact on the community.”

City councilman Mark Campen represents the Lonsdale community. He said he was made aware of potential new youth services in Lonsdale on Wednesday.

“There’s looking at potential funding services and trying to bring some potential services to their community for youth,” said Campen. “If this is to be a potential sports complex, after school activities or recreation opportunities, I think all of those things are certainly positive for Lonsdale.”

Campen said he received information from the Knoxville Director of Public Works that there is potentially going to be some services coming to the community and it may be operated and facilitated by the Emerald Youth Foundation. A spokesperson with the Knoxville Community Development corporation said a potential sports complex is in the works for the Lonsdale area but says Knox County Development Corporation is not directly involved.

Emerald Youth Communication Director John Crooks says the “Emerald Youth Foundation is currently exploring with multiple partners, including community stakeholders in Lonsdale, the possibility to support their shared vision for that special neighborhood. ”

However, Crooks says it is too early to confirm details. WATE 6 On Your Side did learn the city is reaching out to others for support on the project. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s spokesperson, Michael Grider, confirmed Mayor Burchett met with Emerald Youth CEO Steve Diggs along with David Brace and Joe Walsh with the City of Knoxville on March 24.

“They requested the meeting and asked the mayor to consider supporting the transfer of a portion of the Sam E. Hill Preschool property on Minnesota Ave. to Emerald Youth for use part of a proposed Emerald Youth project,” said Grider. “At that time, Mayor Burchett made no commitment of support and, at this time, has not decided whether to support the request. Any sale or transfer of county property requires commission approval.”

Portion of the property

In the past, Emerald Youth has put together similar projects in the past including the Sansom Sports Complex near Fort Sanders. The facility opened in 2015.

Samson Sports Complex

Thrive Lonsdale explains need for sports complex

Leaders at Thrive Lonsdale explained why kids need this in the community.

“Sports teaches a lot of great lessons. One of the great things about sports is that you learn how to handle conflict in a positive way,” said Pastor Clayton Wood.

Wood says there’s excitement about the possibility of a sports complex coming to the area.

“Having a safe place for kids would be a wonderful asset to our community. We’re hopeful that something’s going to happen here and we would look forward to welcoming that.”

Wood says it’s something their kids need. Many right now are considered at risk and having a place for them to play would be one more way to safely help them grow.

“We want them to have deep roots in the community, to know that there are people to turn to when gangs want them to join. That they can say, ‘Absolutely not. I already have a family, I already have a community. I have people who love me and I’m not interested in that type of life,'” added Wood.

Wood hopes change comes soon because the Boys and Girls Club will be ending programming at Lonsdale Elementary by the end of the year.

“We want this to be known as a place where kids can be safe, where they can be nurtured, and ultimately where they can thrive,” said Wood.

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