By Mark Nagi
Time waits for none of us, and progress is inevitable.
So it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to learn about the latest plans for Neyland Stadium.
Well, this doesn’t have as much to do with the stadium itself, but the land surrounding it.
They are calling it the “Neyland Entertainment District,” and it is the brainchild of Tennessee Athletics Director Danny White. The University of Tennessee is examining a public-private partnership for a development that would span the Tennessee River waterfront near Neyland Stadium.
“Innovation is at the forefront of everything we do,” said White in a statement released by the University of Tennessee. “The ideation of this new Neyland Entertainment District exemplifies that mindset. This is a massive project that has the potential to positively impact our entire city. We’re eager to see what world-class developers dream up to creatively maximize this extraordinary market opportunity. We have the capacity for constructing an entertainment ecosystem that doesn’t presently exist anywhere across the collegiate landscape.”
The District could potentially include a full-service hotel with for-sale condominiums and enough space for conferences and different events. (I’m assuming that wedding receptions would be a constant.) The popular tailgating spot known at the G-10 parking garage could potentially get a roof. That “tabletop” would support more tailgating spots, plus restaurants, retail, and family-friendly entertainment activities.
“Neyland Stadium has always been known for having one of the best gameday environments in college football,” said University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman. “We love to welcome Vol Nation to campus on Saturdays in the fall. This project has the potential to create a year-round destination that engages the Tennessee River waterfront and enhances the campus and our community.”
White added, “This is far greater than an activation on seven or eight days a year. This is a year-round destination that not only enhances our gamedays but also elevates the everyday academic experience of our entire student body and campus community year-round.”
Tennessee is already trying to finance the ongoing facelift of Neyland Stadium, with some of those improvements already complete. Getting this venture to see the light of day wouldn’t rely as heavily on traditional revenue streams.
University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd said, “This public-private partnership opportunity will enhance the look and atmosphere of Neyland Stadium and the Knoxville campus while creating an additional destination for the city of Knoxville, all without state funding.”
Far too often Tennessee was reactive when it came to its athletics department. Yes, tradition is one thing and UT has so much of that which should not be forgotten. But Tennessee was stuck in a rut. The hiring of White moved Tennessee into the modern day. This idea is yet another example of why White was a program-changing hire.
UT is hoping that the “Neyland Entertainment District” would make the UT campus a place to be, and not just on Fall Saturdays. If you are looking for a comparison, “The Battery” in Atlanta is a good place to start. When the MLB’s Braves built their new stadium in the suburbs, they wanted to make the area surrounding the ballpark a destination, and not only during baseball season.
The “Neyland Enter-tainment District” could be a major revenue stream for the University of Tennessee, and the city of Knoxville.
We’ll see if it happens.