HUNTINGTON - After decades of dashed hopes and false starts, Marshall University plans to have a new baseball stadium in Huntington within two years.

City and Marshall officials announced Thursday the completed purchase of the former Flint Group Pigments property, the future site of a 3,500-seat ballpark. Players are expected to take to the field by a March 2021 completion date.

The 8-acre property, located along the north side of 5th Avenue at 24th Street, is part of a vision to revitalize neglected industrial properties in Huntington's Highlawn neighborhood.

Mayor Steve Williams, Marshall President Jerome Gilbert, Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick and members of the Huntington Municipal Development Authority made the announcement at the site before a large crowd that included current and former baseball players.

"This is our first step in building a baseball stadium for Marshall University," Gilbert said. "People said it would never happen and there were many that have since been promised before, and finally we are here. Today is a great day for Marshall University and, as I said before, it's been a long time coming."

Hamrick said the planned ballpark will cost $18 million to $20 million and include locker rooms, a team clubhouse lounge, a team merchandise store and concession stands. A fundraising campaign has begun to provide the necessary funds, officials said.

"A vision is a dream with a deadline ... " Hamrick said. "The deadline is come this November, we want to put this out to bid for somebody to step up and build this stadium by March in 2020. It will take us 12 months to build that baseball stadium, and we will play baseball in that stadium by March 2021."

The Huntington Municipal Development Authority purchased the Flint property as part of an effort to remake the area and surrounding properties into the Highlawn Business Innovation Zone, or H-BIZ. This was a key component of a plan Huntington leaders submitted to the America's Best Communities competition, winning a $3 million grand prize in April 2017 to help make it a reality.

Total investment in the property, including its $750,000 purchase price and cleanup expenses, is $1.2 million. Part of the winnings from the America's Best Communities competition, $500,000, was used toward the property's purchase.

Purchase of the property now gives Marshall University the green light to begin fundraising and building the stadium. Municipal Development Authority members are expected to finalize the property's closing expenses during a Feb. 25 meeting.

In addition to the Flint property, the Municipal Development Authority secured an option to purchase the 27-acre former Ingram Barge property along the Ohio River for $1.9 million. This option must be exercised by March 31. Municipal Development Authority members will discuss this property during the Feb. 25 meeting. City leaders are also continuing negotiations to purchase the former 42-acre ACF Industries property.

Williams previously said he envisions a hotel, retail spaces and industrial manufacturing possibilities like biomedical engineering.

Marshall, a member of Conference USA, plays most of its non-conference home games at George Smailes Field at the Huntington YMCA Kennedy Center about seven miles from campus. That field doesn't meet C-USA requirements, but the league is allowing the Herd to play there this year because the facility is being upgraded and the school's promise of a new stadium.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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