Morgantown team won’t affect baseball efforts

PARKERSBURG – The announcement that a Pittsburgh Pirates’ affiliate is moving to Morgantown won’t have a negative effect on Parkersburg’s efforts to land a minor league ball club, according to one of the men working to make that happen.

“It can’t hurt; it can only help,” said Tom Rooney, president of The Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group, which is working with the Wood County Development Authority Parkersburg Baseball Study Committee. “That’s one less market that would compete with Parkersburg for a Frontier League team.”

The short-season, Class A New York-Penn League Jamestown Jammers franchise will move to Morgantown to play in the new $20 million baseball complex West Virginia University is building. At one time, Morgantown had been mentioned as a possible site for an independent Frontier League team, which Parkersburg also is looking to land.

“It was the plan to have Frontier League teams in both Parkersburg and Morgantown,” Rooney said.

The Frontier League, whose teams are unaffiliated with Major League clubs, has 14 teams. One of them is the Frontier Greys, a traveling squad. A new team is being sought to replace them, but the league also is considering expanding to 16 teams.

While both cities had similar goals at one point, Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said it’s not likely the city will follow the same model as Morgantown, which used tax increment financing to build a facility that will be the home field for both the WVU baseball team and the to-be-renamed Pirates affiliate.

TIF redirects increased property tax proceeds resulting from a project into the project. While it has been discussed in relation to the ballpark, Newell said the project would have to generate a minimum of $30 million in economic development to be eligible.

“You have to have $30 million in signed contracts,” he said. “We couldn’t guarantee that we’d get $30 million anywhere we go.”

Three possible sites are being considered in the second phase of a feasibility study for the ballpark – Fort Boreman Hill, the Sixth Street area of downtown Parkersburg and Lee’s Hill off West Virginia 47.

The study also is examining financing options for the project. Newell has said he wants no general fund money to be used, but the city could offer assistance in the form of other revenue it does not currently receive.

Rooney pointed to hotel-motel tax money if a new hotel came in as a result of the ballpark, fees or taxes on parking or tickets at the field.

Newell said two hotels are under construction in the city, which means the hotel-motel tax revenue will be increasing beyond the current level.

“As a matter of fact, that money has to be used toward those type of things,” he said. “That is a tax that wouldn’t be raised.”

Ticket fees and other options could also be considered, Newell said.

It’s also unlikely the city will land an affiliate of a Major League team if the stadium does become a reality, although Newell said he’d welcome the opportunity.

Teams affiliated with Major League clubs have restrictions on what other events they can hold in the stadium, he said. An independent team wouldn’t face those guidelines.

“Ball games alone would not support a stadium,” Newell said. “You have to have all that other stuff.”

The model local supporters are looking to is CONSOL Energy Park, home of the Washington Wild Things in Pennsylvania and site of concerts, rodeos, professional wrestling and other events. Wild Things owner Stu Williams is interested in placing a team in Parkersburg.