The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

February 21, 2012

WVU looks into new baseball stadium

Funding would come from tax increment plan

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University is looking into using tax increment financing (TIF) to create a multi-tenant stadium to house its baseball team as it moves into the Big 12.

The site would be near the University Town Center mall and the stadium would play host to not only the Mountaineer baseball team but a short season minor league team, as well as community teams such as the American Legion.

To get the financing a new district would have to be created on 600 acres there and the first step toward that was taken Friday when state Sen. Bob Beach introduced Senate Bill 631.

The financing plan is similar to one Luck used in Houston to construct a soccer stadium for the professional soccer team he ran before becoming WVU’s athletic director last year.

“My going-away gift to Houston” is what he called it.

The University Town Center is located near I-79 and houses a large retail shopping and entertainment area that includes Walmart, Target, a Giant Eagle, restaurants such as Chili’s and Lobster House, and a movie theater.

In order to qualify for TIF, which is public financing from the state through sales taxes or from the county through property taxes, the project must have a public purpose, which is what the stadium would give it. Other such things that could qualify would be the likes of an ice rink or a community theater.

Luck envisions the minor league team serving that purpose, much the same way that the Pittsburgh Pirates short season Class A affiliate in State College does. They have played at Penn State’s Lubrano Park since it opened in 2006.

Luck visited that setup two weeks ago and came away with the belief that it would work well.

“It's my belief that the Clarksburg, Fairmont and Morgantown markets would be in position to support a minor-league team," he said.

Luck also visited Washington, Pa., to study its stadium setup.

“That’s the kind of thing we are talking about. The benefit you could have would be the university team playing there along with a minor league team and a Legion team. You could have 30 minor league games, 30 college games and 25 or 30 Legion games, in addition to maybe the state playoffs,” he said.

A few years back there was a study about bringing a minor league team to Fairmont that involved David Satterfield, who is former executive director of the West Virginia Development Office, that indicated the Morgantown, Fairmont and Clarksburg area would be a good location for a short season minor league team.

Luck is looking to get into a new facility for the spring of 2014 season.

“From my perspective, as we stand right now, Hawley Field is not adequate,” Luck said. “More than likely next season we will play our Big 12 opponents in Charleston or Beckley or Princeton where there are nice stadiums.”

Luck had no figures on what the new stadium would cost to construct.

Hawley Field, a 41-year-old stadium built in 1971 at the Coliseum complex, seats about 1,500 people on bleacher seats. It has no locker room facilities for either the home or visiting teams, forcing them to dress in the Shell Building.

West Virginia’s move into the Big 12 puts it into one of the premier baseball conferences in the country with schools such as Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State often contending for national titles and sending players to the major leagues.

Luck said the TIF would not violate WVU’s policy of having its athletic department economically independent.

“First of all, if this works, this is effectively money being collected by the state through sales tax or by the county with property tax and sent directly to the developer,” he said. “I would analogize the financing to how Mountaineer Field or the Coliseum was built. The state put up money. It’s a capital cost.”

The university would not own the stadium, Luck theorizing it might be owned by the town of Granville.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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