For clarification, July 20, 2021: While the stadium and the Austin Homes renovation project are neighboring ventures, the two are not connected. KCDC is overseeing the Austin Homes renovation while the sports authority is leading the stadium construction.

By Ken Lay

Overcast skies and a mild threat of rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of Knoxville area sports fans late Saturday morning as the City of Knoxville hosted a stadium block party near the site of where the future home of Minor League Baseball’s Tennessee Smokies will soon stand.

City and county leaders such as Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and Knox County Commissioners Larsen Jay and John Schoonmaker dropped by and mingled with citizens, members of the Knoxville Area Urban League, employees from KCDC and Barber-McMurry Architects, the firm overseeing the building of the new stadium, which will be home to the Smokies, Knoxville’s professional soccer franchise, which will begin play in the spring of 2022, and other concerts and festivals.

The venue is set to open in 2024.

On Saturday, classic hits from the 1970s and 1980s were pumped in through a public address system. A pair of local food trucks were there to provide refreshments. One of Tennessee’s baseball mascots was on hand as well as mascots from the Appalachian League, an official summer college league of Major League Baseball.

But the project that would bring the Smokies back to Knoxville from Sevierville is about more than baseball. As part of the building project, Austin Homes, a public housing project in Knoxville will be renovated.

Knoxville City Deputy Chief of Community and Economic Development R.J. Justice said the stadium project would boost the city’s economy.

“It’s about jobs. It’s about transportation and it’s about housing. The Urban League will work with is in construction and help us employ diverse construction workers.”

A transportation company located in Knoxville’s Hardin Valley Community, Local Motors, was present to exhibit its Olli shuttle. That company has shuttles in California, Saudi Arabia, France and other countries around the world. It does not, however, have a contract in Knoxville or any other city in Tennessee.

“We know there are going to be issues with parking,” said David Fish of Local Motors. “We’re out here today to show the city what we can provide with our 3D autonomous shuttle.”

Barber-McMurry’s Faris Eid said he hopes the project will revitalize a portion of the Old City and other parts of the city.

“We are pleased to be involved with this project,” Eid said. “We hope that it provides re-vitalization to this portion of the city and to points north and east of here.

“When they built James White Parkway, it separated East Knoxville from downtown and we’re hoping that this project will revitalize those areas as well.”