Baseball could work in MOV

MORGANTOWN – When news first broke that a group of area businessmen and politicians, including Parkersburg mayor Bob Newell, was interested in bringing a Frontier League baseball team back to the Mid-Ohio Valley one of the more interested readers became West Virginia University Director of Athletics Oliver Luck.

“There were three or four very good reasons,” Luck explained. “Parkersburg is a great sports town. It has lots of WVU supporters. Baseball is a great sport.

“Third, sports are good economic developments and, fourth, what’s good for Parkersburg is good for Morgantown.”

Luck, who took over the reigns of the Mountaineers athletic programs following the retirement of Eddie Pastilong in 2010, knows of what he speaks as the former-starting quarterback for the old gold and blue recently saw ground broke on a new, $20 million baseball complex which is slated to be opened by the beginning of the 2015 campaign.

“Two things I would tell the committee in Parkersburg,” continued Luck, “first, it is absolutely possible. Secondly, there are economic development tools out there that can make the entire project affordable.”

The economic development tool out there that WVU’s athletic department leader used is called Tax Increment Financing or T.I.F.

“There are actually two types of TIFs. A real estate TIF and a sales tax TIF. More groups have used the sales tax method because they discovered that it can be an economic boom to an area as well as a way to finance facilities that could not be financed any other way.

“We believe our baseball complex will not only be an economic boost to Monongalia County, but Garrett County in Maryland, Preston County, Marion County and even for our fans in Wood County.”

The process of attaining Tax Increment Financing isn’t an easy one, or without its struggles. And, it would help to have some members of the state legislature interested in your venture.

A sales tax TIF involves utilizing the tax base at a local economic development. A cap would be placed amount of tax brought in by the development. Any amount over that cap over the next, say 30 years, would be used to defray the costs of the facility as well as the infrastructure needed to get to and from the structure.

“We started the process here in Morgantown two years ago. We first approached our state legislators in 2012. They again brought up the topic in 2013 and it was approved.”

WVU’s newest facility will be built in connection to the University Town Center Mall. Sales taxes above the established cap will more than offset the $20 million price tag and new businesses opening around the facility will only raise the amount of money raised and lower the number of years for paying off the debt.

“University Town Center was a perfect fit for us,” said Luck. “The area’s developer wanted to do something to bring more people to Mall and we wanted the economic impact the development offered.”

Luck’s background shows his ability to make dreams a reality.

After being drafted by the Houston Oilers in the second round in 1982, he played four seasons in the NFL. He retired from professional football, but became vice president of business development for the NFL and was later appointed general manager of the Frankfurt Galaxy of the newly created World League of American Football.

Luck was named president and CEO of NFL Europe in 1996. Before that, however, he became chief-executive officer of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority in 2001.

In that role, he oversaw the development and management of a $1 billion professional sports and entertainment complex for the city of Houston.

WVU’s Director of Athletics was appointed as the first president of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamos in 2005 where he secured the funding for an $80 million soccer complex.

All which points to a series of successes that Newell and his committee might want to copy in their attempts to bring a new stadium to Parkersburg.

Stuart Williams, the majority owner of the Washington Wild Things and a potential partner for bringing a Frontier League baseball team to Parkersburg, was in town earlier this week to speak to the Wood County Development Authority’s Parkersburg Baseball Study Committee as well as more than 60 other people at the Blennerhassett Hotel’s Charleston Ballroom.

During his presentation he emphasized that he was not there to pitch his own involvement in the project but to share his experience with the Wild Things and their stadium in Washington, Pa., and how that model could apply locally.

Exactly the same message Luck wants to send.

“Parkersburg is a great sports town. Having a facility like the one we are building can only be a bonus for baseball fans and any other groups that might find a use for a venue for their events.”