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WVU Board approves purchase of land for baseball stadium

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Members of West Virginia University's Board of Governors on Thursday unanimously approved the purchase of a seven-acre property for the university's new baseball stadium.

The board, which usually meets in Morgantown, convened this week on the West Virginia University Institute of Technology campus in Montgomery.

The university will pay no more than $2.3 million for the ballpark property, which it will lease to the Monongalia County Commission. The county commission will then lease the land back to WVU, with the specific requirement the university must build, operate and manage a baseball stadium there.

The seven-acre parcel is located near University Town Centre in Granville, a suburb of Morgantown.

The complicated arrangement allows WVU to build the stadium using money generated through a special tax increment financing district.

The tax district, approved by the Legislature earlier this year, allows the county commission to use tax revenue increases within the boundaries of the district to finance the stadium along with other infrastructure improvements.

So, while WVU will build the ballpark, the county commission will bankroll the project for up to $16.2 million by issuing bonds and using those tax revenues to pay the debt over time.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin called the state Legislature into a special session earlier this year to approve the special tax district for the ballpark, after a similar bill failed during the regular legislative session. That original legislation was held hostage in the House of Delegates, where members hoped to persuade state senators to approve pay raises for magistrates.

The county commission's lease for the land will expire in 30 years, or when WVU repays all the bond debt, whichever comes first. At that point, ownership transfers back to WVU.

Details of the stadium project aren't yet clear, as the university is employing a "design-build" approach to construction - with one contract negotiated for both design and construction. 

Here's what is clear: the seven acres will include a 3,000- to 3,500-seat baseball stadium, as well as up to three team clubhouses, meeting spaces, concession stands, restrooms, family picnic areas and suites.

The land also will include parking for coaches and players. Narvel Weese, WVU's vice president of administration and finance, said the stadium would rely on parking arrangements with WVU Hospitals for spectator parking.

He said there is no official agreement between WVU Athletics and WVU Hospitals on the parking arrangement, but he doubts there will be any trouble.

"They're affiliates, so it's not like they're dealing with complete strangers," he said.

WVU Hospitals is planning a three-story, 109,000-square-foot outpatient care center at University Town Centre.

WVU Assistant Athletic Director Michael Fragale said the center is to have about 750 parking spots and he is confident the baseball stadium will be able to work out an arrangement with WVU Hospitals.

He said WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck has attended meetings with the property developer, as well as hospital officials.

"I don't think we would get to this point unless they were confident that was going to be worked out in the future," he said.

Amy Johns, spokeswoman for WVUH, said the hospital system has had only "very preliminary discussions" with university athletics over parking.

Fragale said the university hopes to begin advertising the design-build contract for the stadium later this month. The university plans to award that contract by October and begin construction in December.

Construction is slated to wrap up by December 2014, with the stadium's official opening in February 2015.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.

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