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West Virginia Development Board Approves $26.6 million in Tax-free
 Bonds for Developers Planning a 110-room Hotel in
 Downtown Huntington, WV

By George Hohmann, Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

August 20, 2010 --CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Economic Development Authority has given developers who plan to build a hotel in downtown Huntington and a baseball stadium for Marshall University permission to issue $26.6 million in tax-free bonds.

Brad Burgess and Keith McGuire are trying to put together $50 million in funding for the first phase of the project they've named RiverPlace. They estimate the project could have a total cost of $250 million.

Following the authority's vote, Burgess and McGuire said they hope to get permission next month to issue more tax-free bonds. The $26.6 million allocated Thursday was all the authority had available. But David Warner, the authority's executive director, said more bonding allocation may be available next month if some previously approved projects don't pan out.

In May the authority tabled the developers' request for a $50 million bond allocation. At that time, Warner said he and his staff believed the developers needed to have some additional agreements in place, such as formal agreements with the West Virginia Public Port Authority and Marshall.

"The staff is now comfortable that significant progress has been made," Warner told the authority's directors on Thursday. "The project has made significant progress with land acquisition and agreements with public entities."

Outside of the meeting room, Burgess said RiverPlace now has control of about 43 acres through agreements with ACF for property in the 2300 block of Third Avenue and with Flint Pigment for the former BASF parking lot and loading facility in the 2300 block of Fifth Avenue.

During the meeting, Warner said he had been mistaken about the need for an early agreement with the public port authority. "The port authority's most likely big role will be in Phase 2 of the project," he said.

Authority member Greg Skidmore, whose father developed most of Flatwoods, asked if an agreement with Marshall for the baseball stadium is in place.

Burgess said talks were ongoing and amiable. "The agreement we seek with Marshall is a lease," he said. "This is not a partnership with Marshall. We will finance and provide a stadium." Marshall, in turn, would have its baseball team play there, and the developers would have a collegiate summer league baseball team play there.

Burgess said the ballpark would seat 2,500 spectators. He also said the planned hotel would have 110 rooms and likely would be a Courtyard by Marriott or a Hilton Garden Inn. There also would be a restaurant with a dual theme, with half consisting of casual dining and half consisting of a sports restaurant with a patio that opens onto the ballpark's outfield.

Neither the developers nor the economic development authority released any financial details about the project. However, Skidmore asked how the debt incurred to build the ballpark would be repaid.

"We anticipate the revenues from the hotel and restaurant will carry the debt service of the sports facility," Burgess said.

"Wow!" Skidmore said. "It seems tough for the hotel to also support a major baseball facility."

Turning to Warner, Skidmore asked, "But that's not our issue as a board, right? We just see if a project qualifies?"

Warner said no state money is involved. "Our role has been to say if this much is available, and that we've gone through a selection process to select those projects we feel are eligible and worthy to move forward," he said.

"So it's up to the bondholders (to get repaid)," Skidmore said.

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.

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To see more of the Charleston Daily Mail, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dailymail.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va.

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