Did Huntington Mayor Steve Williams fire a warning shot across Marshall University’s bow last week when he talked about the proposed Marshall baseball stadium?
Marshall expects the city to help fund the multimillion-dollar project. The city plans to help, but Williams’ patience has its limits.
In an address to members of Huntington City Council last week, Williams said the city cannot help fund the baseball stadium construction, but Marshall needs help in preparing the former Flint Group parking area along 5th Avenue. Williams estimated the cost for the city’s share of site preparation work at $10 million, with $8 million being used for clearing the site and $2 million for designing the street.
“The stadium must be opened for use by the spring of 2024,” the mayor told the council. “They can’t have a stadium open by the spring of 2024, then we will utilize that money elsewhere.”
Whatever is happening with the stadium project now is going on with a lame duck university president and an acting athletic director. Marshall officials say progress is being made, however.
At a Board of Governors Athletic Committee meeting in June, Interim Athletic Director Jeff O’Malley said stadium construction could be put out for bid again next year and the stadium could open for the 2024 baseball season.
The project went out for bid in December 2019, but bids came in higher than expected, so some parts of the stadium’s design were cut to reduce costs to around $25.2 million. Then came the pandemic, which slowed fundraising. O’Malley said the project will be bid again in March 2022 with the goal of opening the stadium for the 2024 season.
As of June, the Marshall Athletic Department had a combined $3 million of cash and pledged money. O’Malley said he was confident another $7 million from non-private sources would follow, but he would not officially announce it until it was in Marshall’s possession.
A new baseball field that meets Division I standards would be nice, but from a business standpoint would it attract enough fans or rental income from other events to justify itself financially? Few schools can say their athletic departments are self-sufficient financially. Marshall is not one of them. How much is Marshall willing to subsidize its baseball program?
New facilities do attract talent, as the soccer stadium has proved. Baseball is a different creature, however. The collegiate sport at the highest level is dominated by teams from the South and the West Coast. No team north of the Mason-Dixon line has won the NCAA Division I championship since Ohio State did it in 1966.
If stadium bids come in over budget again, it’s doubtful the project could be redesigned again to meet Williams’ deadline. Meanwhile, Marshall has other goals academically and otherwise. As the five finalists for the soon-to-be-vacant president’s position visit campus over the next two weeks, baseball fans and others could learn where the stadium and athletics in general rank on the candidates’ priority lists.