Residents intrigued by baseball plan

PARKERSBURG – Nine-year-old River Ly Sing Sao thinks it would be great to have a minor league baseball team in Parkersburg.

“That’d be cool,” he said. “We don’t have a team. And I would really want to see a Yankees game versus West Virginia.”

The Bronx Bombers may be, literally, out of the league of a team that could potentially call the region home in the next few years, but young River isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for the idea.

The prospect of building a multi-use baseball stadium in the area for a team in the independent Frontier League, and to serve as the venue for other events, received strong support in the initial phase of a feasibility study commissioned by the Wood County Development Authority’s Parkersburg Baseball Committee.

More than 70 percent of respondents said they were in favor of the idea, citing factors like new entertainment options, quality of life and economic development potential. More than 25 percent expressed interest in season tickets.

The second phase of the study is now underway, looking at two potential locations – Fort Boreman Hill and the Sixth Street area of downtown Parkersburg – and financing options.

Committee members have been working with Stuart Williams, majority owner of the Frontier League’s Washington Wild Things and a potential owner for a local franchise. The Wild Things’ CONSOL Energy Park has been held up as an example of how the stadium could be a venue for a variety of events.

Davisville resident Jonathan Stalnaker lived in Washington, Pa., from 2007-2010 before returning to his native Wood County. He attended several Wild Things games while he was there.

“They were a lot of fun and gave me something to do outside on a weeknight,” he said. “I’d love to see a team in Parkersburg because I’m a big baseball fan first and foremost, but I also think it’s a social option that is missing in town.

“I guarantee I’d go to games here, and it’d give me a destination for when friends and co-workers are in town,” Stalnaker said.

Parkersburg resident Korey Riel said he would go to games, but he also likes the economic potential the ballpark would offer.

“It’d bring more people to the area, plus potential jobs,” he said.

Proponents are pitching the park as more than just a place to see baseball; they point to the development that sprung up around the Wild Things’ stadium and tout its potential for other uses. CONSOL Energy Park has played host to concerts by the likes of Taylor Swift and Styx, a Republican Party rally with then-vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin and rodeo and professional wrestling events.

Starting this year, it will also be the home field of the PA Rebellion, a new member of the four-team National Pro Fastpitch women’s softball league.

Parkersburg resident Kathy Heflin said she isn’t a baseball fan, but she likes what the project as a whole could offer.

“I would be interested in attending concerts. We regularly attend the Clay Center” in Charleston, she said. “I just think it would be nice to have something new and exciting in the community for people to participate in.”

Other area residents like the concept, but are skeptical about its execution, since it wouldn’t be the first time a Frontier League team has called Parkersburg home. From 1993-1998, the Ohio Valley Redcoats played their home games at Bennett Stump Field in City Park in Parkersburg.

“If it didn’t work then, I don’t know why they think it’ll work now,” said Belpre resident Larry Brandeberry.

Backers cite the fact that the team would have its own stadium, rather than a community field, where concessions including alcohol could be sold. In addition, the other planned uses of the field would also help support it, they say.

Brandeberry, who attended a meeting on the proposal in 2012, said this week he would attend games from time to time if the stadium and team become a reality.

“I don’t know whether I would stick to it as a routine or not, but I would definitely … give it a shot,” he said.

David Terrell, of Parkersburg, regularly attended Redcoats games but said the people in the stands were often folks who lived nearby rather than from around the region.

“It wasn’t really that big a following,” he said. However, “they had some really good baseball there.”

Terrell thinks a central location – he prefers the downtown site to Fort Boreman Hill – and support from outside the city would help ensure the success of a new team.

Parkersburg resident John McIntyre is opposed to the venture, saying use of the field would be limited by weather even if other events were scheduled there.

“If it rains … it’s going to be just like a big, muddy mess,” he said.

When Williams visited the area in February, he noted CONSOL Energy Park has a ProGrass surface, an artificial turf that can be cleaned and ready to use quickly.

Like supporters of the plan, McIntyre agrees Parkersburg needs more activities for its residents, but he does not believe a ballpark is the answer.

“We’re going to waste all that money putting a ballpark in here when we could be using it to build something like a civic center,” he said.

The money is also a concern to McIntyre, who believes the city – which has already allocated $30,000 to the two phases of the feasibility study – will have to spend a good deal of money on the project, possibly leading to a “baseball fee.”

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell has said the only public money he would support using toward the park would be in the form of tax increment financing, where increases in property tax revenue as the result of a project are used toward the project itself.

Parkersburg resident Elisha Martin said she’s fine with the city helping with the project, as long as her taxes don’t go up as a result.

“I think the city should kick in,” she said. “The money will go back into the city” in the form of tax revenue and development.

A decision on whether to move forward with the project is expected by this summer.