Last week the Pirates and State College did not renew their affiliation agreement for 2013. This forced the Pirates into accepting a two year affiliation agreement with Jamestown in the New York-Penn League, a confusing misnomer considering that there are teams in Ohio, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and Vermont, as well. Jamestown is widely regarded as having a sub-par ballpark and facilities by minor league aficionados, so this two year agreement is viewed by some in the industry as a stopgap measure for the Pirates.
In an effort to connect-the-dots, some feel that the Pirates may be interested in facilitating a relocation effort of a New York-Penn League franchise (Jamestown, perhaps) to Morgantown, West Virginia where a new ballpark is being proposed by West Virginia University. By separate phone interviews, Pirates Prospects spoke with both the design architect for the proposed stadium and West Virginia University’s Athletic Director about this issue.
In June, the conceptual drawings completed by Designstream, LLC of Pittsburgh were posted on the West Virginia Athletic Department’s website. If the proposed stadium looks somewhat similar to Consol Energy Park, home of the Washington Wild Things, it’s because they were both designed by Designstream.
“There will be modern and contemporary elements,” said Kevin Turkall, owner of Designstream and lead architect on the project, “that reflect the timeless architecture of buildings on West Virginia’s campus.”
As of right now, though, Designstream has not progressed any further on the project as their unspecified client does not want to spend any more money on the project until the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) issue is resolved by the West Virginia State Legislature. Tax increment financing allows tax-free subsidies to occur for a development, under the auspice that real estate values/sales tax/income tax will rise as a result of the new development. The subsidy is then re-paid by revenues above the specified tax increment after a certain timeframe.
The TIF for the West Virginia ballpark is actually a two-part TIF. According to WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck, the real estate portion of the TIF was approved in June by Monongalia County and the West Virginia Development Office.
“The sales tax TIF will not be considered by the State Legislature until sometime in their next session, perhaps not until December or January,” Luck stated. Director Luck did say that there was broad-based support for the project by local legislators. That portion of the TIF can either be “denied, approved, or approved with conditions” as per Turkall.
As for where the park will be located, current plans show it directly behind the Wal-Mart at the University Town Centre shopping mall off of Exit 155 of Interstate 79. This sprawling development has restaurants and a wide variety of retailers at this location, owned by developers Mon View, LLC. In an effort to combat potential traffic issues, a new interstate exit is proposed in the second phase of the ballpark’s development plan at a cost of $24M.
In addition to West Virginia University, Fairmont State University and other local groups have expressed interest in sharing the facility. There would be user fees contributed by the various entities using the facility, but right now money “is a moving target,” said Director Luck.
“More than likely, WVU will be the owner,” said Director Luck, “and we would lease to any potential minor league team.”
However, Luck did not choose to comment on whether the Pirates, or any other Major League team, had expressed interest to them at this time.
During the presentations in June to the Monongalia County Commissioners, the date of 2014 was given for the opening of the $16.2 M ballpark. Director Luck acknowledged that was an aggressive timeframe, but felt confident that it could be achieved since most of the site preparation in terms of utilities are available. With the Pirates in a 2 year agreement with Jamestown, the potential exists for the Pirates (if interested in Morgantown as an affiliate) to attempt to relocate the Jamestown franchise for the 2014 season to Morgantown, if the park is completed. The second scenario would involve the Pirates starting fresh with a new agreement in 2015, if Morgantown can successfully apply for membership in the New York-Penn League.
Pirates President Frank Coonelly was contacted for comment for this article, but did not respond.