All have not yet embraced entertainment district

Marvin Westwestwords

Surprise, surprise, even with all the excitement surrounding the Tennessee Entertainment District and the forthcoming boutique hotel, The Danny Whitehouse, not everybody has booked an October weekend.

When I turn up my hearing aids, I get mixed reactions. Some say the district sounds great. Some ask exactly what is it, who is it for and how much does it cost?

I can see potential but to enhance my perspective, I hurried to Hardee’s in downtown Maynardville to conduct a mini-survey.

The question: What is your reaction to the proposed Tennessee Entertainment District?

The answers: Primarily, just what I said, what is it, where is it and what is the price?

One respondent asked “Is the hotel really going to be called The Danny Whitehouse?”

Probably not, said I. More likely a famous brand name. Whitehouse was a flippant teaser from a rascalous reader in downtown Washington, D.C. He was playing games with me.

The diner paused at mid-bite and interrupted my explanation.

“Are you a Republican or a damned democrat?”

The way he said it sounded like a lower-case d. I called time out and went for more coffee.

The project idea belongs to Dr. Daniel J. White, vice chancellor and director of athletics at the University of Tennessee. He came from outside in early 2021 to bring order of chaos, find a football coach, deal with the NCAA investigation, unravel a cluster of tangles and solicit more gifts and grants, enough to guarantee the budget stays balanced.

Dr. White is a dedicated progressive. He very definitely looks ahead.

His compensation says he must be near or at the front of his class – $2.2 million in annual salary plus $300,000 in bonus cash for doing his job. Future raises are guaranteed in his contract.

White said the right thing in the beginning: “We should be trying to win a championship in every sport we have. That’s the level of competitor we want here at Tennessee.”

He was talking about athletes, coaches and staff. Championships are so much fun. They make very good conversation. Winning one now and then can be challenging.

Money? No problem. White has a staff of professional fund-raisers. Best examples of their or his success are sold-out games and the discovery of $20 million in the Food City vault, just waiting to be extracted for naming rights.

Dr. White is a visionary in facility improvements. He is on the case. Some were really needed. I’m not sure about bigger and better jumbo advertising boards, flashing lights and fireworks.

The entertainment district is a bigger deal. The hotel will supposedly offer guest rooms, suites, condominiums, elite dining quarters and conference space, overlooking the Tennessee River and rubbing shoulders with the south end of Neyland Stadium.

The university owns the land along Neyland Drive.

The accompanying table-top will connect the football arena with Food City Center, newly renamed basketball building. Along the way will be restaurants, other retail businesses and space for tailgating. Somebody will be selling alternate uniform components and Vol souvenirs.

“Unparalleled Rocky Top experience” says Dr. White. “It would enhance the game-day experience of so many football and basketball fans.”

Yep, it was his idea.

In theory, somebody else, a developer, is going to pay for it and operate it and maintain it and generate millions in profits to be shared with the university and the athletics department.

The Tennessee entertainment district is being boosted as a great step forward for everybody, including the city of Knoxville, even the state. Taxes are popular with all recipients.

The Tennessee entertainment district may turn into an absolute delight for fans. My faithful reader Virgil Mincy has not yet recovered from doubts.

Virgil is an old friend, a long-ago classmate at the university, distinguished author of “East of Kingston, South of Here,” retired business executive, surprisingly good golfer and all-around good guy.

He started to say he is disgusted about the whole extravaganza. He settled for questions.

Exactly how will the ambitious project enhance the game-day experience of the thousands of fans who have never been near the south end of the stadium?

Will great numbers be attracted or just the affluent who occupy boxes and other special sections? Want to guess what the price tag will be for those convenient hotel rooms and parking on football weekends?

“Dr. White said the waterfront has been on his mind because it has been underutilized as a campus asset and as an asset for the athletics department and fan experience. …”

Virgil can foresee sailors from the Vol Navy being safely escorted across the four-lane for pre-game refreshments at the “Whitehouse.”

Virgil did not use that word.

Dr. White is also in favor of a pedestrian bridge across the river. Estimated cost ranges from $55 to $75 million. He didn’t say anything about who would pay for that. Maybe tolls?

“Whatever this entertainment project accomplishes, I doubt most Volunteer fans will ever get near it,” said Mincy. “They almost certainly won’t participate. I am reminded of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. You can watch but you’re never part of the show.”

From Virgil’s perspective, enhanced game-day experience would start with genuine refurbishments of south stadium walkways and restrooms. He’s had football tickets since 1969 and he’s pretty sure the same restroom doors, block walls and facilities have been there all along.

“They have been painted.”

His idea of a better game-day experience for all football fans would be a little wider seating space and a team that could beat Georgia one season and Alabama the next.

Marvin West welcomes comments and questions from readers. His address is


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *