Things are moving along quickly in WVU’s quest to get a new baseball stadium built in Morgantown. Developers of the University Town Centre site where the stadium would be built are hoping to get approval later this month from the Monongalia County Commission on a Tax Increment Financing plan that would help pay for the ballpark. At least two of the three commissioners need to approve the plan that would use future gains in taxes to subsidize the building of the project now. If the plan gains local approval, the issue would then be taken up next month during an interim legislative session in Charleston. Once that hurdle is cleared, ground could be broken as soon as this fall.
Getting the stadium built is one thing, filling the stadium up with events is another. The Mountaineers, naturally, would be the anchor tenant. Also, Fairmont State athletic director Rusty Elliott has expressed interest in the Falcons playing their home games at the facility.
"Any time you can improve the situation for your student athletes you have to look into it," Elliott told WAJR radio in Morgantown Tuesday. "This is a way we might be able to upgrade our facility. You explore every option you have."
Fairmont State currently plays its baseball games at Mary Lou Retton Park in South Fairmont. The school shares the facility with Fairmont Senior High School and with the Marion County Parks and Recreation Department.
"It’s ten miles down the road," said Elliott of the potential new ballpark in Morgantown. "It might be a chance to share something with the flagship university in the state. There could be no better partner than that and no better place to play."
The calender for a new ballpark would be filled during the months of March, April and May with the college games, but what about the summer months?
It’s believed that the New York-Penn League would consider placing a team in Morgantown. The league is a 14-team circuit with teams in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont.
The New York-Penn League is a Class-A Short season league, one step below the South Atlantic League where the West Virginia Power compete. The NYP League season just got underway this week as it runs from mid-June until early September. It’s a 76 game schedule that would include 38 home dates.
The New York-Penn League has great history and an 84 year tradition. Some of the teams in the league have great success in drawing fans. The Brooklyn Cyclones drew over 7,000 fans per game last year. The Cal Ripken Jr. owned Aberdeen Ironbirds drew an average of 6,560 fans per game in 2011. Teams in Staten Island, Lowell, Hudson Valley and Tri-City all drew 4,500 fans or more per game last season. The Pirates have an affiliate in the league at State College, PA that drew an average of 3,757 fans per game.
There are, however, three times in the Western New York region that are struggling to draw fans. Batavia (1,058), Jamestown (1,137) and Auburn (1,424) were at the bottom of the league in attendance last season. Batavia is affiliated with St. Louis, Jamestown with Miami and Auburn with Washington. The prevailing thought is that one of of those three teams could possibility relocated to Morgantown once the new stadium is built.