Building a Framework for Jobs

Proposed stadium site

Building a Framework for Jobs

Boyd’s development team, labor groups seek ways to collaborate on the proposed multi-use stadium project.

by scott barker • October 11, 2021
Proposed stadium site
Site of the proposed multi-use stadium at the edge of the Old City.

Tennessee Smokies owner Randy Boyd and a collection of labor groups are looking for ways to work together on the proposed stadium project and adjacent mixed-use development at the edge of the Old City.

Both sides are interested in job training programs for aspiring trades workers.

Knoxville-Oak Ridge Central Labor Council, Knoxville Building & Construction Trades Council, Iron Workers Local 384, and Laborers International Union of North America Local 818 sought a meeting with Boyd to discuss their proposal for a community benefits agreement on workplace issues. 

Boyd and members of his development team met with the labor groups last Wednesday at the downtown offices of Partners Development. Boyd has been cool to the idea of a formal community benefits agreement, which the labor groups have sought.

While no agreement was reached, both sides came away optimistic about the project. 

“I think their intentions are great,” Chris O’Keefe, business manager for Ironworkers Local 384, said in an interview. “We realized there are tons of opportunities.”

Boyd was equally upbeat. “It was a great meeting,” he said. “We agreed on a lot of things and came up with some action items … . We are all in agreement that we want to benefit the community.”

Boyd has proposed a publicly funded, multi-use stadium for his AA minor-league baseball team and other local uses, including a home field for Knoxville’s new soccer club, on land he’s assembled along Jackson Avenue east of Hall of Fame Drive. 

Boyd plans to donate the land, appraised at $10 million, for the stadium’s footprint. He has formed GEM Community Development Group to build a privately financed, mixed-use development on land he owns surrounding the stadium. The stadium is estimated to cost $80.5 million, with the private development representing an investment of more than $100 million at first.

Organizations typically seek community benefits agreements to require a developer to include public amenities and programs in exchange for their support. Last month, the labor groups asked for a written agreement to ensure the project provides access to good jobs, training and long-term career paths for workers.

Specific requests included a minimum wage of $15.50 per hour, a targeted hiring program for individuals with barriers to employment, workforce standards, and a requirement that contractors and subcontractors use certified apprenticeship programs.

The overriding concern, according to O’Keefe, is that local contractors and subcontractors get the construction work, and that no temporary employment agencies be used to find workers.

In an interview on Thursday, Boyd said he shares that goal. “We want to hire subcontractors and people from the East Knoxville community,” he said. 

Most publicly funded construction projects must go through a public procurement process, typically through competitive bidding or requests for proposals, to hire contractors. City and county governments can’t restrict the pool of possible contractors to only local firms.

The city-county Sports Authority, however, isn’t required under state law to use a public process.

“Sports authorities don’t have any procurement restrictions,” Knox County Chief Financial Officer Chris Caldwell said.

The city and county are negotiating a development agreement that would set a maximum cost for the stadium’s construction and make Boyd’s company responsible for any cost overruns. 

“Sports authorities, under state law, have the authority to enter into these turnkey developments,” Knoxville Chief Community and Economic Development Officer Stephanie Welch said.

O’Keefe said the labor groups were relieved to learn the arrangement allows for developers to give a preference to local subcontractors. “There’s a lot more flexibility,” he said.

Boyd said Denark Construction was selected through a request for proposals process, and all its subcontractors are local firms — including a minority-owned electrical subcontractor. (Denark, led by CEO Raja Jubran, also built the Knoxville Convention Center and the Tennessee Smokies’ current stadium in Sevier County.)

GEM Community Development Group, the company Boyd formed to build the mixed-use development, is working with the Knoxville Area Urban League to engage minority-owned businesses that might want to work on the project and help with job training.

The Urban League is hosting its second networking session for disadvantaged, minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses at its headquarters from 6-7:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Boyd and O’Keefe said the labor organizations would meet with Urban League officials to discuss ways they could help one another. Urban League President and CEO Phyllis Nichols attended last Wednesday’s meeting. 

“We’re certainly willing to put our heads together with them or anyone else,” said Terrence Carter, the Urban League’s vice president of workforce and economic development. “We would absolutely love to have minority workers have the opportunity to get those skills.”

O’Keefe said the unions already have apprenticeship programs that are certified by the U.S. Department of Labor. “If they want an apprenticeship program, we’ve got them up and running,” he said, adding that Boyd assured the organizations’ representatives that temp agencies would not be used to find workers.

O’Keefe said the labor groups would still like to have a binding workforce agreement in writing, and would contact Denark about the possibility of reaching a deal. 

“We’re going to continue the talks,” he said. “I’m excited, to be honest. I didn’t think it would be like this.”

Boyd said the development agreement currently being negotiated with the Sports Authority would include provisions on workforce standards. He, too, said the meeting was positive, non-confrontational and productive.

“The momentum is building” for the stadium, he said. “There are more partners coming on board.”