Planners study ballfield financing

PARKERSBURG – As sites for a proposed baseball stadium are looked over and considered, officials are also discussing how such a facility might be financed.

One idea has been forming a Tax Increment Financing zone for the ballfield area as a possible incentive to make the facility more appealing to private investment.

Tax increment financing captures the projected increase in property tax revenue created by developing an area and uses that increase to assist in paying for development and redevelopment projects, according to “Property Tax Increment Financing in West Virginia, A Guide for Counties and Class I and II Municipalities from the West Virginia Department of Tax and Revenue and the West Virginia Development Office.”

A TIF can use future gains in taxes to subsidize current improvements.

“This funding makes it possible to go forward with projects that otherwise would not be built,” the Guide said. “Tax increment financing is possible because the development or redevelopment project is expected to increase the aggregate assessed value of property in the development or redevelopment project area or district.”

Local planners are studying the feasibility of a stadium and a Frontier League baseball franchise here. Among places discussed have been Sixth Street, Lee’s Hill and Fort Boreman Hill.

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said the TIF option has been discussed as local officials look at ways a facility could be built in the area.

“It has been brought up,” he said.

The state had imposed a cap of $30 million in development for a Property Tax TIF to be implemented. There would have to be $30 million in development there, all under contract, to qualify for a TIF.

“A baseball stadium would make up around $10 million,” Newell said.

Additional development would have to be secured in the form of retail, hotels and other businesses to make up the difference, said Cam Huffman, president of the Wood County Development Authority.

“They could not do it on baseball alone,” he said.

Other projects and proposals would have to be submitted for the ground around the ballpark to be considered, he said.

“It is a possibility,” Huffman said.

The size of the sites being looked at on Lee’s Hill and Fort Boreman Hill have the available area around it to accommodate additional development beyond the proposed baseball stadium, Newell said.

A site along Sixth Street in Parkersburg is being considered, but there’s not as much additional space there to develop other commercial properties.

Newell said it would be hard to come up with another $20 million in development to qualify for a TIF in that location.

“That location is boxed in by the railroad and the river,” Newell said.

It would be awhile before anything else could be developed around that location, he added.

The Avery Court Housing Project is the most recent TIF established in the area in the early 2000s.

Local officials do not think the state will be able to help much with funding as the state has seen budget cuts recently.

“They really don’t have the money,” Newell said. “We have not asked them.

“We will ask, but we aren’t really expecting anything.”

Huffman did not expect the state would be able to contribute financial assistance to such a project either.

“The state has had a series of budget cuts,” he said. “I can’t imagine that they would have the funds available.”

The state could help in other ways with helping to form the TIF, officials said.

As state money has become more limited in recent years, any request for funds would have to show the sizable merits of a project and its future to be considered for any available funding, Huffman said.

Officials were not planning to propose tax levies to raise the money, Newell said.

The only “public money” that officials might look at to help would be any money from new hotel and motel tax revenues, the mayor said.

It was recently announced that two hotels were coming to the area and two more hotel chains were looking at the area.

“What we collect goes to promoting tourism,” Newell said. “That money could be dedicated to the ballfield since that facility is designed to bring people into Parkersburg.”

However, officials want to show the project can work through business development, rather than public moneys.

Any project would have to be able to stand on its own and be viable, Huffman said.

“They would have to work the finances so it could work on its own rather than just throwing grants at it,” he said.