City still interested in baseball team, stadium

PARKERSBURG – Mayor Bob Newell says he remains confident the city would find value in pursuing a baseball feasibility study.

Newell reiterated his desire to explore the idea in his recent “State of the City” address, asking Parkersburg City Council to carefully review information on the proposed project before drawing any conclusions.

“Certainly any project we do has its detractors,” he said on Wednesday. “I think there is potential in this, and I’ve asked council to keep an open mind.”

Planners have been studying the construction of a baseball stadium and sports center for a Frontier League baseball franchise. Newell has been a proponent of the plan, which would be led by the Wood County Economic Development Authority.

“It’s about more than just baseball,” Newell said. “It’s all the other activities and events that could be held there.”

Newell said Parkersburg is the largest city in the region but does not have a large venue for events. It’s central position to cities such as Charleston, Wheeling, Huntington and Columbus mean Parkersburg would have a large area from which to draw potential attendees and events.

City Council President Jim Reed agreed, saying he was in favor of further exploring the idea.

“I think it would be a benefit to the city,” he said. “I think it brings more than just baseball. I think it is important to fund this study.”

In December, Parkersburg City Council voted to spend $10,000 to assist with a proposed baseball feasibility study.

“What we did as a city was just to fund the study,” Reed said. “The Development Authority has really taken the lead on this.”

Cam Huffman, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Authority, did not return a call seeking comment this week. Newell spoke to Huffman Wednesday and said approval of funding for the feasibility study had passed the authority’s executive board, but had not yet been brought before the entire board for a vote.

The authority board meets on a quarterly basis, and Newell said Huffman indicated funding for the study likely would go before the full board for a vote in March.

“As soon as they get the money together and sign the agreement, we can see this move forward,” Newell said.

Sam Winans, co-chairman of the Wood County Development Authority’s sports committee, said he believes the project is moving forward. Officials are working with the McDonough Foundation to draft a grant proposal to help fund the study, he said.

“Once we are done getting all of the funds together we will go ahead and contract with Rooney Sports and have them do part one of the feasibility study,” Winans said.

Newell said the first two phases of the feasibility study are estimated to cost about $25,000 each.

“If this doesn’t show positive results, there won’t be a need for a second phase,” he said.

Reed said the challenge will be to convince the public it is a move worth considering. “I think people would enjoy it if they could get past the idea of it being just a baseball stadium,” he said.

Newell has said public money would not be used to fund a stadium, and said Wednesday he believes such a project would find many backers in the form of businesses, franchise owners and other supporters.

“They see an opportunity for profit here,” he said. “If they didn’t they wouldn’t be so interested in this area.”

“It’s not really something for the municipality to take on” funding-wise, Reed said. “Certainly we need to be behind it, but it will have to be privately funded.”

Winans said he is still a proponent of the plan.

“I’m a big believer that the Mid-Ohio Valley wants baseball, needs baseball,” he said. “We are in hard economic times and baseball is a good bang for your buck. It’s all about economic development.

“To me this is a big deal for Parkersburg. It is a big deal for the Mid-Ohio Valley,” Winans said. “It’s time we get our families out and enjoying some baseball.”