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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
Megan Boehnke

Thousands of students played more than 2,200 games of flag football, sand volleyball and other sports at the University of Tennessee's intramural fields this school year.

Only one of them walked across Sutherland Avenue to eat at Holy Land Market and Deli, owner Walter Ajlouny said.

While UT officials have declared the new fields a great success for students, some area businesses said they saw modest - if any - impact from the influx of students.

"They said it's going to help business and all this, but it's not even helping anything," said Shahid Masood, owner of Red Onion Pizza.

The university opened its new 38-acre recreational field complex in August, three years after it vacated and then demolished 60-some apartment buildings it owned on the site. The tenants, often international students with families, frequented the restaurants along Sutherland - an Asian market, Ethiopian restaurant and Ajlouny's Middle Eastern market and deli.

Restaurant owners held out hope the new fields would bring new students, who would be hungry after games and frequent area establishments.

Masood, who said his business dropped off 40 percent when the apartment buildings came down, even built a small outdoor patio space with hopes it would attract students and spectators from the games.

"All the time (the restaurant) was full because their families lived there, and the children would come order pizzas," he said, while gesturing to an empty dining room at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday.

"I don't know how long we can stay here," he said.

But not every business is feeling the same pinch. Next door, Dead End BBQ, which opened shortly before the apartments were demolished, had a busy parking lot around the same time Thursday. The restaurant is doing so well, it recently opened a second location in Maryville.

The traffic from the recreation fields doesn't account for much of their patronage, but Dead End has catered two events at the fields and still is considering opening a takeout window, manager Michael Von Wahlde said.

"They usually come in later toward the business operations," Von Wahlde said. "They're really good about, when they see us closing down, they'll jog across the street, taking to-go orders and they're in and out rather quickly."

Several businesses complained they rarely see students, and when they do, it's late at night.

But the university schedules games 5-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday because students attend class during the day, said Rex Pringle, director of UT RecSports.

The university also has heard grumbling about not opening up the fields to nearby West High School, and at least one parent complained at a school board meeting about Knox County Schools not using the fields.

But the fields were paid by student fees - not taxpayer money, Pringle pointed out. Their priority, he said, is to make sure the fields are maintained for the students, and though the school does have rental rates set up, there has been only one small rental this year.

The fields also will go largely unused most of the summer, save for a possible two-day ultimate Frisbee tournament students on the club team are coordinating.

But while area businesses and schools might complain, UT is happy with the success of the fields for students. The university was able to offer a four-on-four flag football league, where last year, they only had the field availability for a tournament. Other schools, including the University of Kentucky, University of Alabama, UT-Chattanooga and the UT Health Science Center have either visited or inquired about visiting the complex.

 

Photo by J. Miles Cary photos by J. MILES CARY/NEWS SENTINEL The University of Tennessee intramural fields sit behind fences on Sutherland Avenue on Thursday in Knoxville. The University tore down a married student housing complex to make room for the fields. Saira Masood, left, and her husband Shahid Masood, right, owners of the Red Onion Pizza and Deli restaurant on Sutherland Avenue, said they have had a steep decline in business.

 

May 26, 2014

 

 
 

 

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