NEWELL - A Newell businessman and a former West Virginia delegate from Chester are teaming up to make an alternative offer for Newell Memorial Field.
Tommy Ogden, co-owner of Builders Wholesale in Chester, and Pat McGeehan, chairman of the Hancock County Republican Party, say they would be willing to bid $425,000 at a public auction for the Newell property and the old Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton. Ogden previously had indicated an interest in the Newell stadium property.
The men's offer, which is contingent on the properties being sold at auction, carries with it a criticism of Hancock County commissioners, who on Monday voted to offer $400,000 for the stadiums.
Ogden and McGeehan said the commissioners' proposal is too low and smacks of backroom dealing.
"Government should not be picking winners and losers," McGeehan said. "We believe a transparent, public auction is the only way to move this property for the good of the community."
McGeehan, a former Republican delegate who just lost his bid for election in West Virginia's 1st Senate District, said private, not public, dollars should be used for such a purchase.
"Utilizing taxpayer dollars to fund the sale of these athletic fields is nothing more than redistributing tax dollars from our local residents, in order to subsidize connected individuals down the road," he said. "We don't feel this is ethical."
The Hancock County Board of Education is meeting in special session at 6:30 p.m. today to discuss the commissioners' offer and other options for the sale of the stadiums.
Ogden and McGeehan said they believe the school board should reject the commissioners' offer and reschedule an auction for the properties. An auction had been scheduled for today but was canceled after the school board met Nov. 19 with Patrick Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, and Hancock County Commissioners Mike Swartzmiller and Dan Greathouse.
On Monday, commissioners voted 3-0 to offer the school board $400,000 for the stadium properties, asking the BDC to pursue economic development opportunities for the land. To strengthen their offer, commissioners agreed in principle to loan the BDC $750,000 as matching funds for a grant application to the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
Such a grant, if approved, could cover the cost of site preparation and construction on one of the stadium properties or on the old Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery site in Chester, Ford said.
Ogden and McGeehan said the TS&T site should be given "top priority" for economic development - not the stadiums.
"What we don't need is to rush into some form of development before all options are weighed," the men said in a letter faxed to the school board on Thursday. "We need to slow down and decide what is best for all concerned. ... We ask the board to please make the right decision and reject the commissioners' offer ... ."
Swartzmiller declined to comment on the men's offer or their criticism of the commissioners.
"We made our pitch, and now it's up to the school board," he said. "We will respect the school board for whatever decision they make."
Ogden and McGeehan said their offer is better than the commissioners' because it involves more money - $250,000 for the Newell stadium and $175,000 for the Weirton stadium - and is privately funded. McGeehan said Ogden would provide most of the capital, while he would pursue economic development opportunities.
"Make no mistake," their letter said, "we need development, but we can start development slowly, rationally and logically, and expand as needed. In the meantime, the field can be used by youth football and the community."
Were they to acquire the property, Ogden and McGeehan said they would be willing to meet with Chester Fire Chief John Hissam to discuss the needs of the Chester Volunteer Fire Department. Hissam has made several attempts since July to acquire the Newell stadium for fire department and community use.
Ogden said the commissioners' proposal "just doesn't feel right," which is why he sought out McGeehan.
"One week from the auction, they come in and totally exclude the private sector from the equation," Ogden said. "Our proposal is better for the kids and it even gives the school system extra funding."