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Future ballpark projects: Still waters run deep

Proposed new Knoxville ballpark

Regular readers know we run a list of upcoming ballpark projects on the right-hand column of every Ballpark Digest page. This list includes projects on the MiLB, MLB, indy, summer-collegiate, spring-training and college-baseball fronts, and covers both new ballparks and renovations. Right now the list is a little wonky–and here’s why.

Because most ballparks scheduled to open in 2020 never actually opened to fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the list of 2021 openings is quite extensive — but when you hit 2022, there’s little on the agenda save a major college unveiling and two summer-collegiate projects.

But that doesn’t mean there is no work going on regarding new ballparks: there is just nothing formal on the table. The Oakland A’s, for example, are still proceeding with planning on a new Howard Terminal ballpark, but we’re not to the point where we have a schedule and budget. Similarly, a few cities, such as Palm Beach and Clearwater, have spring-training upgrades on their agendas, but planning has slowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And colleges, which have been attacking major plans in the last few years, have put ballpark projects on hold as athletic-department budgets are being reevaluated with football and March Madness shutdowns in the last year.

Hit with a double whammy is Minor League Baseball, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the entire 2020 season and an expected takeover of the MiLB organization by Major League Baseball. No one is committing to long-term plans yet, but there are several teams quietly working on new-ballpark plans and extensive ballpark renovations. It would be astounding if these teams working on new-ballpark plans are contracted, but until the final MiLB/MLB lineup and business arrangements are made, cities and lenders aren’t going to sign off on any plans. So while there appears to be little work being done, there is indeed plenty of planning underway below the surface.

One team owner going public with his new-ballpark plans is Randy Boyd, who has quietly been acquiring land for a new downtown Knoxville ballpark for his Tennessee Smokies (Class AA; Southern League). He has a location, the outlines of a development plan and an architect, Populous’s Bruce Miller. The plan currently calls for a new Old City ballpark surrounded by retail, restaurant and residential development, using the familiar model of a new ballpark construction fueling additional economic development. It’s a model used at successful new ballparks in Fort Wayne and Nashville, and one both Boyd and Miller thinks will work in Knoxville.

“We’re always looking for where the ballpark could have the most impact. How could it help spur development and cement the development momentum?” Miller told the Knoxville News.

Watching the development of a new Tennessee Smokies ballpark will be a fascinating process. But it won’t be the only one in the works in coming months.

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