Local officials provided updates on two large-scale Kanawha County projects Friday morning at the South Charleston Chamber of Commerce’s 26th annual Groundhog Breakfast.
In a presentation at the event, which included comments from Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango said the group began the bidding process last week to host three US Youth Soccer organization tournaments at the Shawnee Park Multi-Sports Complex being built in Dunbar.
The commission will bid for US Youth Soccer’s Region I Presidents Cup, the U.S. National Presidents Cup and a U.S. Regional Presidents Cup, he said. The tournaments generate millions of dollars in economic impact for their host cities, Salango said, particularly in the hospitality industry. Barboursville hosted the Region I tournament in 2017 and will host a U.S. Regional Presidents Cup in June.
The commission aims to have the complex open by July 15, according to Salango. The project includes six soccer and lacrosse fields, four baseball and softball fields and several practice fields.
Salango said the complex will be an appealing host site for tournament organizers because it’s within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the country’s population. Ideally the complex would host 12 to 15 tournaments per year, he said, with the rest of the calendar being open for youth sports practices.
Also speaking at the event, South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens said the city is continuing to make progress on its planned tax-increment financing district. Sales and property tax revenue from the TIF, which would cover much of the city, would be used to finance $155 million in various public projects.
South Charleston recently acquired the fly ash pond once owned by FMC near the Kanawha Turnpike exit off of Interstate 64, with the plan being to fill the pond with excess fill from the planned Jefferson Road expansion project and develop a shopping complex at the site. The shopping complex is slated to become part of the TIF district.
The Jefferson Road project is supposed to start later this year, Mullens said.
“I said when this was announced that it’s a game-changer, and I still believe that,” he said of the TIF district.
Speaking after Mullens, Thrasher reiterated points he and his department have made in recent months, including eliminating the state’s personal property tax on business inventory and more funding for its Commerce and Tourism departments.
“I’ve been in business, and I know you have to spend a little money to make a little money,” he said.
The additional funding would help the commerce department recruit businesses and close deals more effectively, while the tourism department could invest more resources in rehabilitating the state’s “image problem,” according to Thrasher. He also floated the idea of creating a fund that would nurture startup development in the state.
The business inventory tax funds public school systems in West Virginia, and opponents of eliminating the tax have questioned how schools will be funded without it.
Also speaking at the event, West Virginia State University President Anthony Jenkins emphasized the importance of assisting the state’s “bottom core talent” that lacks an easy path to higher education.
Jenkins said the university’s “Straight 2 STATE” program is one way it is attempting to combat that issue. Through the program, students who complete an associate’s degree from a partner college are guaranteed admission into West Virginia State for their selected major.
“Whatever the option, whatever the role or path [students] want to choose, we need to make sure as an institute of higher education we embrace them with authentic environments that support and provide them with the wraparound services to be successful,” he said.