Local officials came away from the meeting with professional baseball authorities with a positive feeling Parkersburg can be a site for a new Frontier League team and facility.
A delegation led by Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell took a trip to Washington Pa., Wednesday to meet with Frontier League officials to discuss creating a team and facility in Parkersburg.
The mayor described the meeting as “very positive.”
“The league and team owners want to make it happen. They want to make sure we are on the right track and make it happen,” Newell said. “It is a big plus.”
Newell was joined by Mark Lewis, president of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau; Jill Parsons, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley; Cam Huffman, executive director of the Wood County Development Authority; City Development Director Ann Conageski and Parkersburg City Councilman Jim Reed.
Officials were given a tour of the Wild Things’ park, Consol Energy Park. They had a meeting with Stu Williams, managing partner of the Wild Things; Bill Lee, commissioner of the Frontier League, and Tom Rooney, president of the Rooney Sports and Entertainment Group.
No decisions were made, but Williams came away from the meeting excited about the possibility. Both the Wild Things ownership and the Frontier League want to assist Parkersburg in creating a team and facility.
League officials have studied Parkersburg’s demographics and believe a fanbase exists for the facility, Williams said. Officials will now go to work on a possible site for a stadium, a search for investors and owners, and a look at potential funding options for a stadium project.
Officials said the next step will be a May 1 meeting in Parkersburg to meet with potential investors and league officials.
Officials said a stadium facility would cost between $8 million-$10 million. If a site is acquired, officials will have to determine how to fund the project. Newell said there are a number of ways to fund the project and Lee said the league has blueprints for a variety of funding sources.
“Some have been done with no public money. Some have been done with almost all public funds and some have been a mix,” Lee said.
Washington used a nonprofit group to build the stadium. The Wood County Development Authority has such a mechanism in place through which to funnel a project, according to Huffman.
The Redcoats, a Frontier League team, played in Parkersburg from 1993 until 1998. Home games were played at Bennett Stump Field in City Park.
After finishing last its final three seasons, the team moved to Dubois County, Ind. In 2005, after moving to several cities, the Redcoats landed in Marietta. The team suspended operations before the start of the 2006 season.
Both baseball and the league have matured in the last 10 to 15 years – evolving into million-dollar franchise fees with up-to-date baseball facilities capable of being more than just a baseball venue. Frontier League teams play in front of crowds of 2,000 to 4,000 fans. The Wild Things play in Consol Energy Park, a 3,200-seat stadium.
Lee has been involved with the Frontier League for 19 of its 20 seasons. The league has 14 teams, eight of which are located in areas which have seen development around the ballparks, he said.
“We want the stadium to be an economic driver, a source of community pride, quality of life with more options for entertainment,” he said.
Lee said since 1999, when they began to get stadiums dedicated to the Frontier League teams no team has folded. Consol Park was built in 2001.
“All the teams are still in the league and vibrant,” he said.
Recently, Frontier League Baseball announced an agreement to create a team and facilities near Bridgeport, W.Va., where play is expected to begin in 2014. They also disclosed Parkersburg has been targeted by the league for a second Frontier League team, hopefully in time for the 2014 season.
Williams said the Parkersburg project can move as fast as it can get the funding in place. In order for a team to take the field in 2014, Lee said, construction would likely need to begin by January.
Rooney said league officials have been working toward minor league baseball in West Virginia for the last seven or eight years.
Lee said the addition of Parkersburg and Bridgeport to Washington will create a triangle for the league that will bring a lot of positives for each town and its team.
“We are very excited about it,” he said. “If we can make it happen it is going to be great.”
Williams said liked the can-do attitude of officials.
“Once financing is in place it will roll down hill like a snowball.”