The Survey Says, ‘Play Ball’
A poll commissioned by the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors shows a majority of county voters back a new multi-purpose stadium.
A poll conducted in March shows strong support for the publicly funded, multi-use stadium proposed for the warehouse district adjacent to the Old City. And support for the project increases when respondents learn more about its details, the poll found.
Six in 10 poll respondents support building a publicly funded stadium adjacent to the Old City.
The poll, conducted by the national polling firm American Strategies for the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors (KAAR), found 59 percent of registered voters in Knox County are in favor of building the stadium, proposed by Tennessee Smokies owner Randy Boyd as a new home for the AA minor league baseball team. Thirty-nine percent were opposed.
The poll also showed that the more people learn about the project, the more inclined they are to support it. Seven in 10 respondents would be more likely to favor the project after learning it would consist of a mixed-use stadium that would be open to the public year-round.
Boyd said the poll results validate the stadium proposal. “It’s great to see the enthusiasm, excitement and positive momentum we all feel be quantified in this way,” he said in a statement. “We are thankful to the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors for doing this.”
In conducting the poll, American Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based firm, surveyed 400 registered voters in Knox County. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.
Hancen Sale, government affairs and policy director for the Knoxville Area Realtors Association, said the organization has resources through the National Association of Realtors to pay for polling firms at a reduced rate. The Realtors Association board of directors used the poll results to come to the conclusion in April that it would endorse the project, he said.
“These polling results show that the Knoxville community overwhelmingly supports this transformative public project,” Sale said. “The opposition says the public is against the project. The poll shows that’s not true.”
Erik Wiatr, a local political consultant who formed the group Knoxville Against Taxpayer Stadiums (KNATS), said there has been scant public input on the stadium.
“If residents are as supportive as the KAAR poll suggests, that should encourage city and county officials to have in-person public forums to help educate the public about the project and build support for it,” he said in a statement. “So far official public forums have been lacking for a project with a large taxpayer expenditure.”
The poll found that 79 percent of respondents had heard at least something about the stadium proposal, but only about 1 in 5 had heard “a lot” about the project and roughly the same number had heard nothing about it.
You can read the full American Strategies memo on the poll, including the breakdown of responses to each question, right here.
The Smokies moved to Sevierville in 2000 after efforts to build a new ballpark to replace the aging Bill Meyer Stadium failed. Boyd, a Knoxville native, business owner and currently president of the University of Tennessee, bought the team in 2013 and has since assembled property east of the Old City for the stadium project.
Boyd has proposed a $65 million publicly funded stadium that he would surround with a $140 million mixed-use development. The city and the county formed a sports authority to finance and oversee the project, but no decision has been made on moving forward. County Commission and City Council both must sign off on the plan.
City and county officials said they were encouraged by the results of the poll.
“I don’t think it’s contrary to what we hear, which is positive,” said Knox County Chief Financial Officer Chris Caldwell.
Stephanie Welch, the city’s chief economic and community development officer, said the poll will inform future decisions on the project. “It tells me that our planning for a multi-use stadium is heading in the right direction,” she said.
City and county officials emphasize that the stadium would be used for sports other than baseball, as well as concerts, farmers’ markets and other events. Plans are for the stadium to be open to the public when events aren’t scheduled, much like a park.
“I think that’s the No. 1 selling point,” Sale said. “People want this to be more than a baseball stadium, and it is.”
Two-thirds of respondents said they would be more inclined to support the project if it helps revitalize East Knoxville with housing, jobs and improved infrastructure. Boyd is working with the Urban League of Greater Knoxville to identify minority-owned contractors for the project and the Beck Cultural Exchange Center to honor the area’s history.
Sale said the development’s proximity to Austin Homes, which Knoxville’s Community Development Corp. is rebuilding into a 400-plus-unit affordable housing complex, only strengthens the argument for the stadium.
“We shouldn’t gloss over the fact that this project is also a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create the sort of mixed-income neighborhoods that research consistently shows is critical for promoting upward income mobility and access to economic opportunity,” Sale said. “Substantial public investment in close proximity to existing affordable (housing) should be the model.”
The poll found bipartisan support for the stadium. Two-thirds of Democrats, 61 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents favored the project.