MORGANTOWN — It’s no coincidence, according to Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust President Stephen Farmer, that an explosion of development at Mylan Park has run parallel to the deterioration of Morgantown’s recreation facilities.
The responsibility, he explained, doesn’t lie with WVU, the county or Mylan Park, but more than a decade of apathy on the part of city leadership.
“For a representative of the city to be claiming right now that these constituencies have not supported the city of Morgantown, I’ve been authorized by the trustees to say that, in our view, is ridiculous,” Farmer told The Dominion Post.
Farmer was joined by Mylan Park Foundation President and WVU State and Local Government Relations Specialist Ron Justice and Rob Alsop, WVU’s vice president for strategic initiatives, in responding to comments shared online and in public meetings by Morgantown Deputy Mayor Mark Brazaitis.
Brazaitis has called the development of a $45 million track and aquatic center at Mylan Park a “tragedy” because it is being developed outside city limits and has accused Justice of steering it away from the city and to the privately owned Mylan Park. An English professor at WVU, Brazaitis said his employer is “gutting this town.”
He’s called for an ethics review of Justice, who previously served as Morgantown’s mayor and a longtime member of the city’s Board of Parks and Recreation Commission (BOPARC). Brazaitis has also said county residents don’t pay their fair share for using BOPARC facilities, and, referencing the Book of Matthew, claimed the city’s facilities are being torn down “thanks to the wolves in our midst.”
The flurry of rhetoric has come in the month or so since the city’s focus pivoted from trying to purchase the Haymaker Forest to funding improvements for BOPARC facilities, which, according to some estimates, need between $30 million and $40 million worth of attention. Brazaitis has asked WVU to provide that money.
Farmer said while Justice served as mayor and Dan Boroff was Morgantown’s city manager, the charitable trust provided more than $10 million for city projects, several of which involved BOPARC. That changed when Boroff left the post in 2010.
“Since Dan Boroff left as city manager, until most recently, the city of Morgantown did not make one request for a project from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust. They never came to us. They never asked anything at all, Farmer said.
“And during that same period of time, while the city of Morgantown and its leaders were just watching, people with energy, ideas and vision created other things, like Mylan Park. Mylan Park came and made presentations and we invested in things out there.”
Farmer said the situation is reminiscent of an old saying — Some people make things happen. Some people watch things happen and some people wake up and say ‘what happened.’
“And while everybody around, the Mark Nesselroads, the Ron Justices, the Gordon Gees and everybody around has been making things happen, the city of Morgantown is just waking up and going ‘what happened.’ ”
Farmer went on to say “I can tell you the trust’s experience with the city of Morgantown and with its city managers post-Dan Boroff has been non-existent, and that’s what I think the dialogue and conversation should be about right now, not why Mylan Park became Mylan Park,” he said. “If there wasn’t a need for Mylan Park there wouldn’t be a Mylan Park, now would there?”
He said it was also during this stretch that the city watched the Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park “deteriorate into a shameful state” out of “total benign neglect.”
Farmer said it was Justice who connected former City Manager Jeff Mikorski and current City Manager Paul Brake with the foundation and convinced WVU to pay for plans to redevelop the park and riverfront and program the updated venue once complete.
The charitable trust provided the city $4.1 million for the riverfront redevelopment.
“So if the city of Morgantown is going to stand up now and say they’ve somehow been victimized by any of these other constituencies, that’s not my experience. My experience is they have been watching,” he said, adding, “Those are not opinions I’m telling you. Those are facts.”
Justice also addressed the claim that the track and aquatic facility under construction in Mylan Park was intentionally steered away from the city.
WVU provided $15 million for the project as did the charitable trust. The Mylan Park Foundation is financing the remaining $15 million.
Justice noted the project has been more than four years in the making and the result of more than 18 months of work by an ad-hoc committee formed from a range of community leaders following a February 2014 leadership forum with former WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck.
Justice said that at the time Luck said the group had about a year to pull together a joint WVU/community facility before WVU would invest its $15 million on its own project.
The first site identified was in Morgantown’s White Park, in the city’s 1st Ward. Mylan Park was also identified as a possible location.
Once word got out, Justice said, feedback against the city site started coming in.
“We went to Jeff [Mikorski] and said ‘Hey, this is a great project. What we don’t want is for it to be a controversial project. Do you think, right now, you have four council votes to take 20 acres up there and put it into a non-profit, give it away and figure out a way to finance it to move forward,’ ” Justice said.
“And he said, ‘My honest answer is no.’ That’s all, at that point in time, the committee needed to hear” given the timing issues expressed by Luck, who’d promised the Big 12 WVU would upgrade its swimming and diving facilities.
Justice said his experience as a member of BOPARC is that the city found partners to create or acquire new facilities without ever identifying a way to fund them going forward.
He also noted that after Boroff left, annual funding of the park system’s capital improvement needs dropped way off. BOPARC was also asked at that time to begin repaying the city for materials, like road salt, and was taken off the city’s paving and maintenance budget. That, when added to the city’s lack of cooperation with the charitable trust, left BOPARC struggling to keep up.
Justice said he’s encouraged by the direction Brake is taking with BOPARC, increasing capital improvement and operational contributions and bringing the parks back under city road maintenance.
“The thing that’s unfortunate in all of this, and this is just my opinion. There is no denying there are facilities that need help, but we have a great park system. You won’t go anywhere, in any city park system, and find Dorsey’s Knob … Where else can you go with a rail trail system like this community has,” Justice said, asking why city officials didn’t pick up the telephone before stepping to the microphone.
“With all the assets we have in this community, there’s no reason we can’t solve some of these challenges and move forward. We got a lot of things going on and we’re very fortunate with many of the circumstances we have, which is maybe the most unfortunate thing about this episode,” he said.