HUNTINGTON — Marshall University plans to meet the Huntington mayor’s deadline of opening a baseball stadium by the spring of 2024.
University officials told The Herald-Dispatch that they plan to meet Mayor Steve Williams’ deadline, which he announced during a City Council meeting last month.
In 2019, the Marshall Board of Governors bought the former Flint Group Pigments property, which is to be the site of the stadium, from the Huntington Municipal Development Authority. After a project delay amid the coronavirus pandemic, a new timeline was announced in June 2021, with the stadium to be open ahead of the 2024 season.
After he spoke to City Council members, Williams emailed a letter further explaining the potential use of $10 million in city funds for the property to Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert. During the council meeting, Williams said it was not clear how much of the funds could be from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.
The city provided a copy of the letter to The Herald-Dispatch after the newspaper submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to both agencies for communication between each other and internal communication about the property since March 1 of this year.
Williams believes “in the mutual benefit” that the baseball stadium could bring to both the city and the university, he wrote in the letter. He also noted that the project “has been long discussed with little action over the decades.”
“The construction of a stadium built to NCAA Regional Championship specifications can prove to be a tourist attraction for collegiate, scholastic and minor league championship tournaments. In turn, the financial benefit to the region will result in millions of dollars of economic benefit,” Williams wrote. “It is imperative that the stadium construction be undertaken as soon as possible. For that reason, the City is prepared to utilize resources that are available to the city to assure environmental remediation and street design to be completed to allow construction to commence.”
The city is prepared to commit an amount not to exceed $8 million, pending the approval of the City Council, Williams wrote. The funds would be used for areas including but not limited to “utility relocation, environmental testing, abatement, stormwater mitigation, environ plume, foundation impact and soil removal.”
The city would also commit to paying for the redesign of 24th Street between 5th and 4th avenues in an amount not to exceed $2 million. That would bring the total of the city’s commitment of funds to $10 million, Williams wrote.
“With this $10 million commitment, we are particularly concerned that the construction begin in a timely manner,” Williams said in the letter. “Our commitment is contingent upon the stadium being completed for use by the spring of 2024. If this time table is not able to be accomplished our resources will be directed elsewhere.”
The mayor said in an interview Monday that he spoke with Gilbert before the City Council meeting and before sending the letter. In an email to the newspaper, Gilbert said he was pleased to learn of the city’s support. The president added that he was understanding of the mayor’s deadline and the need to set it.
The city has until Dec. 31, 2024, to spend its American Rescue Plan Act funds. Williams also has previously discussed building a stadium before leaving office. He is now in his third term. While the administration has focused on planning for the past eight years, Williams said it will now focus on building, not just on the stadium project, but in other areas, such as infrastructure and broadband.
“There will be more dirt moving in the next three years than people have been used to seeing in the last 20,” Williams said.
With a commitment from the city for the baseball stadium, that could be a signal for other investors to climb aboard, the mayor said.
“I know if we come in saying we’re ready to commit $8 to $10 million for the baseball stadium, there will be others that will be saying, ‘This must be real and we’re ready to pony up,’” he said.
Marshall intends to meet the 2024 deadline, university officials said in an email. So far, ongoing fundraising efforts total $18.57 million, which includes $8 million proposed from the city, $1.7 million in committed pledges and $4.7 million in soft pledges.
Fundraising efforts were paused amid the coronavirus pandemic, the email said. Marshall anticipates that after a site plan is finalized, “we will have a robust response from donors and are confident we can raise the necessary funds. Our fans are clamoring for a baseball stadium at Marshall.”
“We are preparing draft capital project statements showing different scenarios, with two locations considered,” the email said. “At least one of the scenarios is likely to meet the 2024 deadline. The Board of Governors will make the final decision regarding which capital project statement to adopt.”
In response to a question about plans including NCAA Regional Championship specifications, the officials said via email that at this point, those specifications are still included. “However, if the project plans change in a major way (i.e., the project is radically changed by phasing or significant scaling), the stadium may not be able to meet those specifications. It should also be pointed out that we also expect to receive strong consideration from Conference USA to host the 2024 conference baseball tournament.”