Baseball study kicks off with public meeting

BELPRE – The first phase of a two-phase feasibility study on bringing baseball to the Mid-Ohio Valley was off and running this week, with the first day culminating in a public forum in Belpre.

About a dozen people attended the public question and answer session Tuesday evening at the Belpre City Building. Tom Rooney, president of Rooney Sports and Entertainment Group, and David Stone of AECOM, the company hired to conduct the feasibility study, spoke to those in attendance, giving a quick overview of the process.

Stone said while attendance was small, it was unusual to have a public meeting so early in the feasibility study process.

“It’s a kind of unusual and positive step,” he said.

The group met earlier in the day with officials from West Virginia University at Parkersburg, Ohio Valley University and Marietta College, as well as area economic development groups. They plan to meet with more groups today.

Stone said the first phase of the study will take about seven weeks to complete. That study will focus mostly on the demographics of the area, interest from area businesses and residents and whether the area economically could support a professional baseball team.

“This is going to be a real regional enterprise,” Rooney said. “We need to prove there is a marketplace here.”

Sam Winans, co-chairman of the Wood County Development Authority’s sports committee, spoke Tuesday, saying he believed the ball team was “one of the two more important projects going on in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“To me, this area is screaming for this sort of thing,” he said. “We’ve got a chance to grab this brass ring.”

Many of the questions asked Tuesday, such as where a baseball stadium would be located, whether it would be a multi-venue facility and who would own the facility, won’t be answered until later in the process, Stone said.

Rooney said he believes the first phase of the study will show there is an interest in bringing a professional baseball team to this area. If the second phase of the study shows such a move would be economically viable, the process could be completed within three to four years, including the time to build the stadium.

Rooney said management for the Wild Things, which plays in Washington, Pa., remains interested in this area, and baseball would act as an economic catalyst for the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“I really think the Wild Things management group, which is a proven management group, is going to jump on this opportunity,” he said. “When we built that ballpark (in Washington, Pa.) there was nothing there. Now it’s to the point they can’t take anything else.”

Winans said he believes the next step is for area residents to express their interest to keep the process moving forward.

“Enthusiasm will build this,” he said. “We need people around here to pick up the baton and run with it.”