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June 20, 2012

FSU looks to use new ballpark

No commitment made with WVU to share stadium

MORGANTOWN — Fairmont State University, seeing a chance to upgrade its baseball facilities, has inquired into the possibility of using the proposed baseball stadium here for some or all of its home games, the Times West Virginian has learned.

West Virginia University athletic director Oliver Luck put forth a proposal in February to build a stadium at University Town Center using tax increment funding (TIF). The stadium would be used to lure a professional minor league franchise to town and to be used as the home field for the Mountaineer baseball team, which is upgrading its program as it moves into the Big 12 Conference.

Fairmont State President Dr. Maria Rose confirmed that she had sent a letter to Luck proposing that FSU’s baseball team be included in plans to use the stadium for its home games.

“We talked with Oliver Luck a few weeks ago and asked if it would be possible to collaborate on this,” Rose said. “We sent him a non-binding letter of intent to be included in the process.”

Rose added that it was understood that “at this point it is only an idea and that no commitments have been made.”

FSU Athletic Director Rusty Elliott also indicated the school’s interest in moving their home baseball games to the new facility when it is completed.

“Dr. Rose is very aggressive and wants the best things for the school’s teams,” he said.

“We are always looking for anything that will give all of our students, not just the athletes, an opportunity to be successful,” Rose said.

Fairmont State, involved in creating a new as-yet-unnamed league with the eight other football-playing schools from the WVIAC, plays its home baseball games at Mary Lou Retton Park.

“If you ranked the baseball facilities in the WVIAC, our home field would be in the middle, maybe even the upper third of the facilities,” Elliott said. “The field is good but the dugouts are really shabby. We are always looking to make things attractive for the players and to put forth a good image.”

Elliott believes if FSU’s baseball team were to play in a new minor league park it would increase attendance at games.

“When you play a sporting event you want people to come and watch,” he said. “The players enjoy it when people are there, and we would want them to come out and have fun and enjoy themselves.”

A few years back, when there were plans for a water park in Fairmont, those plans called for a new minor league baseball stadium to be built to attract a team, but that fell through when the water park project was scrapped.

The search for a minor league team to move to Morgantown has already begun and sources say there has been interest shown by a couple of leagues.

Having two college teams using the field would not create much of a problem with a minor league team as short-season Class A teams do not begin their regular season until the middle of June.

Senate Bill 631, sponsored by state Sen. Bob Beach, was introduced in late February and requested 600 acres at University Town Center for the project.

The plan to use TIF to finance the project will be just the second time that type of financing has been used in the state of West Virginia, according to Jason Donahue, the real estate broker for the development.

The TIF financing plan was passed by a 3-0 vote by the Monongalia County Commission at the end of May.

Luck has had experience in building stadiums, having been behind the new professional soccer stadium’s construction in Houston, where he was president of that franchise before coming to Morgantown to take on the athletic director’s job.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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