By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Video produced by Shannon Smith, Teknovation Assistant Editor
After hosting eight concerts this fall in its “soft launch,” the new River Breeze Event Center in East Knox County has big plans for the next few months ahead of launching a full concert schedule in early April. That’s the word from Parker Frost, Managing Partner for a team of four individuals who purchased the site of a former drive-in movie theater on Asheville Highway that opened in 1949.
He says that the River Breeze team will continue to make improvements throughout the winter and rent the space for private events. By early April, the plans are to host 50 concerts through fall along with 70 other events such as a car show, chili cookoff, a bluegrass festival, and private engagements.
In addition to the site where the River Breeze Drive-In Theater was located, hence the name of the facility, the investor group also purchased a neighboring house – built in 1805, making it the third oldest in the county – and some adjacent property. The house will be a part private club for members and a place to hold retreats, weddings, and other smaller events. To support that vision, the owners wrapped a 2,500-square-foot deck around two sides of the house. It can be tented, and catering will be provided.
They also built a massive 40-foot by 60-foot covered stage for performers which Frost described as the “biggest undertaking”; built a large, covered area for those seeking adult libations; allowed Schulz Brau Brewing Company to build its own covered area; installed necessary infrastructure for food trucks; created an additional VIP area close to the stage – think Tennessee skyboxes for concerts; and will add 80 bathrooms – 40 for men and 40 for women – ahead of the April full-scale launch.
Plans are also being developed to take advantage of the Holston River which runs along one side of the property which is 16.5 acres in total.
“Our investment will total about $4.5 million when all the infrastructure is completed,” Frost said. He gives credit to Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and Knox County Commissioner Richie Beeler for their support along with Kim Bumpas, President of Visit Knoxville. The county specifically helped with new electricity, water, and sewer matters.
For the long-time Chief Executive Officer of BigWheel, a Knoxville-based digital marketing firm, launching the River Breeze Event Center is driven by personal interests along with seeing a community need and meeting it.
“It’s a legacy project for me,” said Frost, who moved here from Michigan 25 years ago. “It’s something to help keep younger people here.”
Noting that “live music is my passion,” he added, “Prior to COVID, I attended 50 or 60 concerts a year.” Those travels showed him the deficiency that Knoxville had in terms of a competitive outdoor venue for concerts, something that he hopes will help attract artists who have ties to the community to schedule dates at the River Breeze Event Center.
With a capacity of 8,000 people for concerts, it will be the largest outdoor amphitheater in Tennessee. “It’s so needed in this town,” Frost adds.
The ownership group began talking about the possibility in June 2021 and started activity in October. They purchased the former drive-in theater property from Bertha Brewer, who worked at the River Breeze Drive-In Theater for three decades and inherited the property from a childless couple after their death.
With very limited onsite parking and the need to maximize the site for events, attendees are shuttled to the River Breeze Event Center from four downtown locations and a fifth one in East Knoxville. The facility is also cashless and contactless.
Stay tuned for a schedule of concerts and events when the venue reopens for the season in Spring 2023.