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WVU baseball: Monongalia County approves plans for new stadium

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The plans for a new West Virginia University baseball stadium rounded second base Wednesday and appeared headed toward home.

The Monongalia County Commission voted 3-0 in a meeting to move forward with the overall tax-increment financing (TIF) district at University Town Center. The baseball stadium is a part of the construction plan off Interstate 79 in Granville.

"This is another positive step in the process of getting the TIF in place which will result in a new baseball park," said Athletic Director Oliver Luck from Kansas City, where he's attending the Big 12 Conference meetings.

Previously, Luck had supported the TIF to fund the stadium and replace Hawley Field, but Senate Bill 631 died in the Legislature because the required paperwork wasn't finished.

Last week, the Commission decided to review the TIF district application and scheduled Wednesday's presentation by the developers, Mon-View LLC.

Their pitch was unanimously approved and the commission moved it forward to a public hearing June 27. The state Legislature still has to approve the TIF, which could happen before the end of the summer.

A TIF district allows the developer to take sales and property tax revenue above a set amount to pay off bonds for the project. The sales tax is frozen at a set point and everything above that goes to fund the project.

The property tax level is also frozen at a certain point and all revenue generated from improvements to land and buildings after that point is also used to fund the project.

WVU would share the ballpark with a minor league team, likely a short-season summer league squad.

"We've had plenty of meetings with various minor league organizations with a high level of interest," Luck said.

The new baseball stadium could also be a home to American Legion and Little League games and tournaments, West Virginia Conference softball and baseball tournaments, as well as other outdoor events like concerts.

Luck said the stadium could support that type of an event because the plan is to have synthetic grass.

He said the park will cost between $15-20 million.

"The majority of the money will come from the TIF, but we'll make a contribution and ultimately I'd imagine the minor league team would make a contribution and eventually take over all the operations and maintenance of the building," Luck said. "We really don't want to have to spend money on an ongoing basis, and that's the benefit of having a minor league team there."

The stadium would address a longtime problem for the Mountaineers. Hawley Field has been the team's home since 1971, but hasn't really been upgraded in recent years. The last major enhancement was a batter's eye behind the centerfield fence in 2009.

It is otherwise dated and lacks a clubhouse or locker room for both the home and visiting teams and the dugouts are aged and need heating and lighting. There is only bleacher seating for about 1,500 people and Luck wants to double that with actual seats.

More certainty for the stadium plans should only help Luck as he replaces Greg Van Zant, who was fired May 19 after 18 seasons leading the Mountaineers. Names mentioned as possible replacements include former Notre Dame and Arizona State coach Pat Murphy, former Tennessee coach Rod Delmonico, Virginia assistant Kevin McMullen, St. John's assistant Mike Hampton and North Carolina State assistant Tom Holliday.

"It's going well," Luck said. "We've interviewed, I want to say, five or six people and we're moving forward. We've got a little committee out there working on a daily basis, but we haven't sent some sort of a deadline to make a decision."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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