MORGANTOWN - Oliver Luck spent most of Wednesday bouncing from one meeting to another. At times, he said, he had to believe that an outsider would have no way of connecting any of them."A little while ago I was meeting with the Federal Highways Administration and the state Division of Highways,'' the West Virginia athletic director said between two of those gatherings. "Then it's a meeting with Consol to find out if there are any mine shafts in the area. One minute we're talking about wetlands and the next about bats in mine shafts. I guess then we'll have to do a bat survey.''Amazingly, it was all tied to one thing.Baseball.
That's right, baseball.Wednesday was a huge day for the proposed $16 million baseball stadium planned for Morgantown and to be used by WVU. Call it a logistics day, when anyone and everyone involved in the project came together in one form or another to work out the bugs.The bottom line? They did, at least to an extent. Or at least they made tangible progress.And while there's much more planning to be done - not to mention groundbreaking and actual construction - it seems that the stadium and all that goes with it could be on track to open in two years.
"Our timetable for the stadium is to have it open for the 2015 season,'' Luck said. "But syncing our timetable to that of everything else that has to be done is a huge challenge.''As a refresher, here are the plans. In addition to the ballpark, which will be home to WVU and perhaps a New York-Penn League minor league team, there is to be further development of 1,400 acres at the University Towne Center. That means shops and stores and restaurants, along with all the infrastructure required to make those possible - roads, water, sewage, etc.It also means a new interchange for traffic off Interstate 79 between the Westover and Star City exits. At an estimated $25 million, it's easily the big-ticket item in the plans.That, more than anything else, dominated the logistical meetings Wednesday. It has been the biggest question mark surrounding the project because without that interchange there will be no easy way to get to the ballpark, the stores, the restaurants or anything else, save for the current winding, already congested access road off the Star City exit.
"That's the whole issue, trying to sync up two fairly significant, major projects like the development and the interchange to get to it,'' Luck said.On Wednesday, after a meeting of all the minds, it seems quite likely the interchange can be done at roughly the same time as the ballpark. Roughly, but not exactly."I think it will be built faster than any interchange in history,'' Luck said. "I'm no expert on interchanges, but it seems like this one is going to move ahead very quickly.''
It's not likely to be done in perfect order, though. If all goes to plan, the ballpark will open in March of 2015. The interchange won't take traffic until December of that year.Oh, well.But at least it's finally on track. The Morgantown Metropolitan Planning Organization and the DOH held a public meeting Wednesday at the Coliseum to answer questions. They had charts and graphs and handouts and everything. If the DOH has all of that, well, it seems that any question that an interchange would be built can soon be laid to rest.According to Perry Keller, the unit leader for the DOH's statewide and urban planning, the first step is an environmental impact study that could be completed by December. By next spring, real planning can begin and then construction."And then we hope to be able to finish sometime in 2015,'' Keller said. "But that's very aggressive.''Of course, there's no better time to be aggressive. With a strike-while-the-iron-is-hot mentality, the area to be developed is already booming with new businesses and a residential complex. The Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district that will pay for the projects was approved by the legislature in special session this spring, and the WVU baseball team that will call the new park home is coming off of a season in which enthusiasm for the program was unprecedented.
Now, if they can just take care of those bats at mine shafts.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.