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Tennessee Rugby Community Helps With Rugby Park Lease Fight

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Tennessee Rugby Community Helps With Rugby Park Lease Fight

Tennessee Rugby Park.

The Tennessee Rugby Academy has found itself in a fight over its lease at Tennessee Rugby Park in Knoxville County, Tenn.

The Knoxville-area TRA has hosted rugby events at the Tennessee Rugby Park since 2007, personal funds from nine stakeholders forming the Smokey Mountain Athletic Club (SMAC) and entering into a partnership with the Knox County Commission on a 20-year lease. The SMAC paid a $1 a year rent up front with the agreement that SMAC would handle all maintenance and improvements—the land at the time was unusable.

UPDATE: Thanks to the community voicing support, and the SMAC getting their story in front of the Mayor of Knox County, the change in the Rugby Park Lease has been removed from the agenda for Monday's Council Meeting, and instead the County and SMAC will be meeting to discuss a new plan going forward.

At the heart of the issue is that sports in Knox County are running out of field space. SMAC has voiced a desire to help with this while also protecting the work the rugby community put into the park. Within a couple of days the situation has flipped to rugby in the region gaining new friends and supporters.  

According to a statement released by J. Logan McNeil, the Director and Head Coach at the Tennessee Rugby Academy, SMAC put about $900,000 into the facility to make it usable, and then make it nicer. No taxpayer money was used, while thousands of volunteer hours were crucial in making the Tennessee Rugby Park what it is.


But now the new Parks & Recreation Department is trying to change the deal. After almost $1 million in improvements and all those volunteer hours, the County is looking to raise the rent to $5,000 a year, and the Parks & Rec Department wants control over who can use the park and what for.

This would include bumping rugby activities for other activities with little notice. At the same time, the Parks & Rec Department is demanding that SMAC continue to absorb improvement and maintenance costs.

This is in direct contradiction to the current lease, which doesn't expire until 2027. SMAC declined to sign the new agreement. According to McNeil, the Knox County Mayor is trying to have the County Commission break the current lease. One of the Mayor's complaints is that SMAC makes money off the park, by charging a daily usage fee. The usage fee was $50 and has been increased to $100, however, the Knox County Parks & Rec Department's own daily usage fee is more than that—$150.

SMAC is looking for statements of support and has a form supporters can fill out here>>.

This is a call to action to prevent a government organization from reneging on a deal simply because they want the benefits of an organization's work and financial investment. The County might well be able to make such changes after the lease runs out in 2027, but it's unclear how they think they can force a change now in a legal way.

See McNeil's entire statement here>>