The city is seeking public input on a consultant's report, released today, regarding the future of the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum.

The report finds that the Auditorium is salvageable, but the Coliseum needs major renovations or replacement. Cost estimates for various options range from $26 million to $279.5 million.

More in the press release after the break.

Full report here...


Consultants for the City of Knoxville have completed a market and feasibility study outlining options for the future of the Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum (KCAC) complex. Mayor Madeline Rogero is seeking public input and feedback as she considers the alternatives.

The 119-page study, led by Conventions, Sports and Leisure International (CSL), is available on the City’s website at A public meeting to solicit comment on the study has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 14, in the Coliseum Ballroom, 500 Howard Baker Jr. Ave. (Free parking will be available in the Coliseum garage.) Comments or questions about the study can be sent to

"The Civic Auditorium and Coliseum are more than 50 years old, and it was time to take a good, hard look at their future," Mayor Rogero said. "The consultants have presented us with detailed information about their current conditions, and rough cost estimates for either retaining or replacing them. Now we really want to hear from the community before we make any decisions about how to proceed."

The KCAC opened in 1961, and over the years the facilities have hosted thousands of concerts and events, from Guy Lombardo to Green Day. The Coliseum has also been home to a succession of minor-league ice hockey teams, including current tenants the Ice Bears, reigning champions of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The complex consists of the 6,540-seat Coliseum (4,790 seats for hockey or ice shows), the 2,500-seat Auditorium, a 4,800-square foot ballroom, 10,000 square feet of exhibit space and an outdoor plaza with a capacity of 10,000. There are 2,500 parking spaces among three connected/adjacent garages.

CSL conducted the market and feasibility study with partners including Venue Solutions Group, Populous, McCarty Holsaple McCarty Architects, Smith Seckman Reid, Inc. and Dayenesi, Inc. Knoxville-based McCarty Holsaple McCarty were among the original architects for the complex, considered one of the leading examples of Modernist construction in Knoxville.

Among the key findings in the study:

• The Coliseum has exceeded its practical life and should be brought up to state-of-the-industry standards to be able to continue accommodating existing event activity and grow future market share. Failure to do so will result in continued erosion of market share and diminishing event, performance and attendance levels at the KCAC.

• Bringing the Coliseum up to those standards will require renovation and/or redevelopment of the facility.

• The Auditorium continues to serve the market demand for fixed-seating venue space with requirements for seating capacity in excess of the 1,600 seats available at the Tennessee Theatre.

• Consideration should be given to updating the seats, décor, food and beverage provision, back of house and other such functional measures within the Auditorium. It is anticipated that these improvements could be accomplished while largely leaving the existing Auditorium structure intact.

The study considers three alternatives: retaining the current structures with minimal upgrades; renovating and redeveloping the complex; and completely replacing the complex. Cost estimates for various options within those alternatives range from $26 million to $279.5 million. The study also estimates the direct and indirect economic benefits of each of the scenarios.

R. Neal's picture

Intersting info in the report

Intersting info in the report re. market studies for concerts, sports, other events.

Replacing the Coliseum with a 10,000 seat state of the art arena could be a pretty big deal.

The Auditorium seems to be doing well, comparitively and all things considered. Sounds like it could do better with some modest updates.

The report also notes that new facilities don't necessarily need to be in the current location or even adjacent in new locations, which is more typical.

I vote for a new arena and update of the Auditorim, keeping both at the current site.

bizgrrl's picture

I'm glad this is being

I'm glad this is being addressed. Too bad it was allowed to get in this condition. I'm also glad they are waiting and holding the meeting in mid-January. This is a huge decision and a lot of people have other things on their minds right now.

R. Neal's picture

Too bad it was allowed to get

Too bad it was allowed to get in this condition.

What are you talking about? From the photos it looks clean and in pretty good shape considering what they have to work with and the age of the structure. Blame the lowest bidders who built it 50 years ago, maybe?

Brian A.'s picture

That's quite a price range.

That's quite a price range.

tragicallyhip's picture

I love the idea of restoring both facilities...

I have some great memories in both... Lyle Lovett, Stomp, and Nutcracker in the auditorium, and hockey, Disney on Ice, and Globetrotters in the Coliseum. I personally also like the distinctive style of the buildings, and if just the facades, roofs and promenades where repaired, cleaned and spruced up with new landscaping (plus all the interior improvements needed), they would look great on the skyline.

But I also understand that the ROI of renovation doesn't always work. And I definitely like some aspects of the ULI idea to completely raze that area and start over. Maybe the compromise is keeping the auditorium and replace the coliseum with a new stadium, but I'm not sure that's the only need...

The area needs to be animated, and not just when events are scheduled. Downtown has developed to the point, and the apartment community ringing this site has sprung up to the point, where you could really make this area a nexus of activity with mixed use facilities and community buildings alike. Take the entire area between E Summit Hill and the river, and E Hill and James White, and reimagine it. Relocate the municipal police/court facility to open it to development (or keep a smaller neighborhood facility) , maybe keep the auditorium and build a new stadium, but ring them both with some form of retail, restaurant, services, fountains, interactive exhibits. Add greenways through town view and this area, strengthen pedestrian connections to downtown, waterfront greenways, Volunteer landing, the Marriott and the adjacent apartments. Throw in a small outdoor amphitheater to compliment the other performance venues, but one that works as a public park when not used for performances. Rethink the parking structures... either bury them, ring them with more pleasant pedestrian experience, and build atop them. I also heard an interesting idea from a friend... move the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame to campus, right near the Summit statue and arena, and turn the current facility into a new facility for The Muse kid's discovery museum.

I know this is a big hairy, expensive idea, but this is really prime property for Knoxville's city center, and incremental improvements to facilities is unlikely to have an impact except for the events themselves. I'd be willing to bet that returning a good bit of public property in this area to the tax rolls would offset the much of the infrastructure costs. And taxes from new development would be a boon. I'd rather see the city open this area to an RFP for a master plan and developer than just consider the two performance venues.

bizgrrl's picture

Retain some greenspace Unique

Retain some greenspace
Unique design for the new building
Make one or more of the parking garages taller so don't need so much land for parking

Average Guy's picture

Save the World's Fair park

Save the World's Fair park grounds and hand the Autitorium over to UT so they can have their new Clearence Brown.

As for the Coleseum, don't renovate to the point the costs exceed what current users can afford. Would the Ice Bears and Ringling be hurt if they had to charge double their ticket price to cover their cost?

I think so, and likely to the point they'd look elsewhere.

ArtWagner's picture

Take the time to look at the study PDF

I can strongly recommend that interested parties download the study PDF and at least skim through it. The three categories of treatment are fully described and there are renderings to illustrate what the (B) option (demolish the coliseum part and rebuild a new arena adjacent; retain but renovate the auditorium) might look like and how it would open up the space to more efficient use.

I was particularly interested in the study group's reflection that the 1960's hope that the City would grow around the "Civic Center" never even remotely happened, that it remains apart from downtown proper, even though it is in reality just a short distance. The reasons that the growth didn't happen seem obvious today. The suggestion seems to be that taking steps to integrate the complex into downtown is essential.

Although the study indicates that the seating capacity (2500) of the auditorium is needed, it does not go into details about the degree to which the auditorium should be renovated. My feeling is: substantially, if not completely. There are real reasons no one wants to book it in 2015.

R. Neal's picture

There are real reasons no one

There are real reasons no one wants to book it in 2015.

I think you or someone else mentioned this before. Can you refresh my memory?

You are correct that the report didn't elaborate much on the Auditorium.

reform4's picture

It's just a terrible space.

The acoustics are terrible. Other than its size, the place has nothing going for it.

I'd rather see the Auditorium demolished and rebuilt than the Coliseum.

ArtWagner's picture


Two of the possible obstacles that the City will encounter in a redo is the nostalgia that some Knoxvillians of a boomer age have for the building and the natural fondness for the original Knoxville architect, the late Bruce McCarty. Unfortunately, both the auditorium and coliseum had interior design and construction issues that limited them from the beginning.

The coliseum issues are really obvious: it is undersized, both floor and seating, too spartan by modern standards of audience amenities, and it does not have the technical capabilities needed to handle today's arena shows. No renovation will ever be able to overcome these issues, particularly the size.

The auditorium, doomed by the requirement of too many municipal needs and probably not having the benefit of good theater design consultants, was wrong from the start no matter the perspective.
--The interior design, bland even by 1960 standards, looks merely like a scaled-up version of post-war high school auditorium design. The shape and volume of the interior overwhelms with its scale, no matter the usage. The natural acoustics were, and are, horrible, discouraging uses like theater, opera, and symphony orchestra, unless those organizations give in to extensive amplification and reinforcement which may not be appropriate.
--As sound and stage lighting technology changed over time, the building forced odd and uncomfortable adaptations. When professional usage of the auditorium inevitably declined, the stage rigging began to have maintenance issues which persist and have gotten worse. (everything audibly creaks)
--The lobby area is large but is inconveniently laid out. Concessions and restrooms are woefully inadequate for that capacity.

I admit that the auditorium's location (and parking capability) is probably the best downtown has to offer and a total interior re-design and re-build could solve the theatrical and audience issues. On initial glance, it appears that the #2 option (a new re-located arena; renovated auditorium) would serve Knoxville the best. I'd also like to see the auditorium get a name change--there was nothing particularly "civic" in how that land was acquired or used.

R. Neal's picture

The KNS has a pretty good

The KNS has a pretty good editorial today in favor of renovating the Auditorium and replacing the Coliseum.

I didn't get this part, though:

"According to the consultants' market analysis, replacing one or both of the primary venues would nearly double usage after four years. A new arena could absorb some local-interest events from the Convention Center, freeing up days at that facility for events that bring in out-of-town visitors who would spend money at area hotels, restaurants and retail shops."

I guess they are talking about the home show, car show, and Women's Expo?

Anyway, I don't think scheduling conflicts are the problem with utilization of the Convention Center.

Editorial: City must invest wisely in future of civic venues

barkers's picture


Thanks, Randy. You are correct about the passage. Scheduling conflicts can and do occur.

Downtown Man's picture

Another viable option

Could demolish and not replace. The question is: how valuable is a minor league hockey team to life in the city. It means a lot to fans of the team, but nothing to the rest of us. Subsidizing the team by building them a new stadium seems wasteful.

Events other than hockey can go to Thompson Boling.

Average Guy's picture


the Tennessee, the Bijou, Convention Center, or Clayton Center.

I believe you're correct. Aside from hockey, the property is hard to justify.

ArtWagner's picture

Don't be naive

Events other than hockey can go to Thompson Boling.

Thompson-Boling, being on the UT campus and state-owned, does not allow alcohol. And, there are often conflicts with campus events that prevent bookings. If Knoxville wants to attract the larger rock acts and big names, then it needs a modern non-campus arena. Until then, the good shows will continue to bypass Knoxville for metropolises like Greenville/Spartanburg, SC, that have modern facilities. I don't think you realize the quantity and quality of things Knoxville is currently missing out on.

Average Guy's picture

I do.

Just not sure any of those things are worth $280 million.

AC's picture

Hello Art - I think one needs

Hello Art - I think one needs to be careful in assuming that there is a vast quantity and/or quality of shows that would suddenly be coming to Knoxville if we only had the proper facilities. The truth is much more complicated than that - and perhaps the single major factor driving this would be the actual size of the market and the level of support shown in the market for concerts and live events. A large number of touring productions simply bypass markets the size of Knoxville, no matter what, and it is a simple matter of economics - how many people will attend and how much are they will to pay? - which is usually tied to the size of the market as well as to its demographic makeup. For instance, Greenville/Spartanburg is a market of 1,000,000+ with high density of students - especially private college students - and well-heeled retirees. I would encourage you to study the tours which you feel we are missing and then determine how many of them are playing markets of 500k people or less. I think you'll find the exercise interesting. I do think that a Civic Coliseum / Auditorium renovation study is important but we should be cautious about a "build it and they'll come" mentality. Ashley

ArtWagner's picture

I concede…

I would certainly defer to your knowledge and experience booking shows. However, if the current demographics aren't likely to change as you present, Knoxville has no business having an arena of any kind, ever, nor a 2500 seat concert venue for that matter. Almost every civic venue is an "if you build it, they will come."

On the other hand, 15 years ago few people held out any hope that downtown would really change into what it is today. What will we be saying about a need for large performance spaces in another 15 years?

For the record, I'm not an ice hockey fan nor do I generally gravitate to acts that play arenas. I'm just wary about excessive caution when planning for the future.

AC's picture

I wasn't very clear in what I

I wasn't very clear in what I wrote. I was specifically speaking to the notion that Knoxville was missing out on a lot of shows because we don't have a 10,000+ arena. I simply don't believe that any evidence would support that. I did not mean to suggest that Knoxville wouldn't benefit from other types and capacities of performance spaces. We would.

I support development that thoughtfully anticipates as well as nurtures and even builds the future, but understanding the cultural forces, preferences, tastes, and interests driving the move towards urban living and downtown revitalization everywhere will better help us make the best decisions.

As a general trend, the music biz has become increasingly fragmented into niches and the number of artists who can actually draw even 5 - 6,000 people, especially in secondary and tertiary markets - is relatively limited.

The problem with the Civic Coliseum is not its capacity.

Robert Wolfenbarger's picture

“The Greenest Building is the One Already Built.”

“The Greenest Building is the One Already Built.”
-Attributed to architect Carl Elefante

On a local, regional, national, and global level, the word “green” is becoming synonymous with a thoughtful approach to our everyday decisions and how they may impact our community, our environment, and our economy. Historic preservation is an inherently green action for its sustainable approach to community reinvestment and construction.

Pilot Lite's picture

Venue, Study, and Political Focus of Report

The report finds exactly what City Hall directed CS&L to find.

Mistakes, over-sites, and sloppy research permeate this report. It is farce.

As fiction the report is super reading. As helpful direction on wise policy development--not so much.

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