Tennessee Plans Entertainment District Near Neyland Stadium

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Tennessee Volunteers Logo 1967

Seeking what it calls "An Unparalleled Rocky Top Experience," the University of Tennessee athletic department has initiated exploration of a public-private partnership to develop a first-in-class entertainment district spanning the Tennessee River waterfront near historic Neyland Stadium.

According to a release at utsports.com, the project would be anchored by a boutique, full-service hotel with for-sale condominiums and conference/event space in close proximity to both the stadium and Thompson Boling Arena. The vision also features the potential development of a "tabletop" above the existing G10 parking garage to support additional tailgating, restaurants, retail and family-friendly entertainment activities. The project would also enhance the exterior facade of Neyland, the eighth-largest stadium in the world.

A formal Request for Information (RFI) has been issued to gauge input and interest from developers. The university has engaged program management firm Brailsford & Dunlavey as a guiding partner in the Neyland Entertainment District exploratory phase.

"Innovation is at the forefront of everything we do," UT athletic director Danny White said. "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.

"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 game days but also elevates the everyday academic experience of our entire student body and campus community year-round."

As reported by the Knoxville News Sentinel, the project could be a money-making opportunity for the university, but White told the paper that enhancing the experience of Vols fans is the top priority.

“We're always looking to generate as much (revenue) as we can to support our athletics department,” White said. "But the bigger goal out of this is our fan experience. We have the biggest and best fan base in college sports.

"And with the proximity of two iconic venues — Thompson-Boling Arena and Neyland Stadium — we've got an opportunity to do something really special from a fan experience standpoint."

Elements of the Neyland Entertainment District first appeared in UT’s 10-year-plus master plan presented to the UT System Board of Trustees in February, when it was designated as a “near-term priority." The exploratory phase was launched Wednesday without a timeline or estimated cost for the project.

Sports entertainment districts gained notice and momentum with the implementation of The Battery in Atlanta, enhancing the game-day experience surrounding Braves games at Truist Park.

“[The comparison to The Battery] is spot on. That’s exactly what we’re thinking,” White said, according to the News Sentinel. “You see it throughout Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, where you have entertainment districts like this.

"We talked about The Battery and several like it around the country."

There are ample opportunities for more concerts, conferences and events such as watch parties to utilize the Neyland Entertainment District. Thompson-Boling Arena and Neyland Stadium, White said, adding that UT and Knoxville need to take advantage of the riverfront.

“The waterfront has been top of mind for us because it has been underutilized as a campus asset and as an asset for the athletics department and fan experience,” he said. “But for the whole community and the city of Knoxville, it’s something that can be utilized throughout the year."

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