Bridgeport Mayor Jim Christie said this afternoon he is not opposed to a new stadium and Interstate 79 exit in Morgantown, but is opposed to the possibility a new Sales Tax Increment Finance District could help finance it. Christie was responding to an article appearing in today’s edition of The Dominion Post
stating Bridgeport opposed Morgantown’s plan to get Legislative approval for the Sales TIF district that could fund a new baseball stadium.
“My opposition is not to the ballpark. I do believe a new stadium is needed. I also believe the interchange is needed. My opposition is to legislation that will create a second Economic Opportunity Development District (Sales TIF District), which will compete against the district created in Bridgeport for retail development,” said Christie.
Christie added he was not speaking on behalf of Bridgeport City Council, but rather personally. Christie, at the March 25 meeting of Council, did say a resolution was to be drafted opposing the Sales TIF District in Morgantown. Council took no action on the matter due to the item not being on the agenda. As of today, Christie said he has no plans to actually introduce that resolution at the upcoming meeting on April 8.
Roughly a year ago, Bridgeport became the second city in West Virginia to have a Sales TIF District, according to Christie. It is at the Charles Pointe development off Interstate 79. The first is in Ohio County, which is the Cabela’s site, and Christie said when Bridgeport approached the Legislature about doing this new TIF District they were told it would be given a few years to see if it would work without other Districts being approved. Christie said some believed it was hard to gauge the actual success of the Sales TIF District in Ohio County due to it being a border county with other states.
“When the Legislature created the Bridgeport Sales TIF (District), it was agreed, according to our Legislators, that no other district would be created until the Bridgeport District was given time to demonstrate the benefit of a Sales TIF to the state and area,” Christie said. “My position is that the Legislature should comply with its intent that no additional Districts will be created until the Bridgeport District proves out.”
Although the Sales TIF District is in Bridgeport, the District is overseen by the Harrison County Commission. Commissioner Ron Watson confirmed that this afternoon. He backed Christie as to what members of the Legislature told them last year when the Bridgeport Sales TIF District was going through the process Morgantown is currently going through in Charleston.
“When you read some of the information, we were led to believe that we were like a pilot program for this Sales TIF District; a test. We were told we going to see how it works before it would be expanded elsewhere. Then, Morgantown comes in and you find out what they want to do. I guess that shows you nothing is guaranteed with the Legislature,” said Watson. “From a selfish standpoint, I’d like to see us have the time to see if this District will work. At the same time, who has the ownership? I understand where (Morgantown is) coming from. I understand both sides here because if I’m from Bridgeport I’m trying to protect my interests as is Morgantown. Really, there’s not a whole hell of a lot we can do about what’s going to happen.”
The group that will determine what will happen is the West Virginia Legislature. Christie said the Morgantown TIF proposal has already passed the West Virginia Senate. It is currently in the House Judiciary Committee.
According to The Dominion Post, the Sales TIF, along with a standard (real estate) TIF District that is in front of the Legislature would assist in development of 1,450 acres in Morgantown. Part of the funds from the TIF Districts, according to that publication, would fund a new I-79 exit, a new stadium, as well as new retail space. The newspaper also said that the Sales TIF has to pass to make the (real estate) TIF District work.
“As Mayor, my job is to protect the interests of my City … The Legislature can and should appropriate funds for the ballpark and interchange without the use of inducements,” said Christie.
Christie said the area in question in Morgantown is not undeveloped, underdeveloped or an economically distressed area. He said those are requirements that have to be met in order to be eligible for the Sales TIF District status. Christie cited the Economic Opportunity Development District Act for that information.
“From first look, Morgantown doesn’t meet that,” said Watson of the requirements. “I also don’t know all the particulars in regards to their situation so it would be unfair of me to say that absolutely don’t meet one of those requirements. The whole purpose of TIF is that but for that TIF, the development wouldn’t happen.”
Christie believes developers in Morgantown would have the upper hand in the always competitive market to land retail and other business if Morgantown’s Sales TIF District is approved. Whether that is the case remains to be seen, and will only be bore out if the District is approved by the Legislature and there is several years of data gathered to make a determination.
“If you look at it from a broad brush approach, you would think that communities ought to be able to do whatever the Legislature and the law allows them to do. Do we have a monopoly on it or a copyright because we were first? There are some tough questions that the Legislature will be answering,” Watson said.
Recently, it was learned the New York Penn League would have a team in Morgantown. The team would need the stadium to participate. The stadium would also be used by West Virginia University and others. Charles Pointe was the site for a proposed stadium as well.
Monongalia County Commission President Eldon Callen was dismayed with the idea of a resolution, according to The Dominion Post. He called the plan for a resolution “awful” in that newspaper.
Editor's Note: Top photo is of Mayor Jim Christie. Bottom photo is of Harrison County Commissioner Ron Watson.