By C.V. Moore
MOUNT HOPE —
A Mount Hope native who wants to give back to his home says he can help the community restore its unique stone stadium to host national sporting events and tournaments that will drive economic development in the area.
Stewart Payne, who graduated from Mount Hope High School in 1992, has launched the Rehab Mount Hope Municipal Stadium fundraising project to secure $22,000 for a needs assessment and feasibility study to serve as the basis for a facility upgrade.
“If we can get the study done, we can potentially move that stadium forward, which would jump start the local economy,” he said. “Once we can demonstrate that we can bring people to town and that there will be a need for services, that will get things started.”
Payne, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, owns a business in San Diego providing sports programs to athletes “from the cradle to college and beyond.” He travels across the country attending sports events and conducting seminars and trainings, and he says he’s never seen anything comparable to the Municipal Stadium.
Payne envisions the stadium as one day playing host to 10 to 20 NCAA Division II and Division III events, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics events, and youth sports events per year.
The NCAA, for example, is currently bidding out its championship events for the next four years. Eighty-six such championships are held per year in cities across the nation that compete for hosting rights. They send in proposals and must prove that their facilities meet certain standards, like Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and minimum seating requirements.
For Mount Hope to throw its hat in such a ring will require significant upgrades to the stadium, like more seating, an upgraded PA system, upgraded press box, an all-weather turf field, an all-weather track, and a new scoreboard.
Sports organizations looking for hosting facilities also want to know that their athletes will be taken care of with lodging, restaurants, grocery stores, and area attractions.
Payne believes that will be a challenge, since the town currently lacks much of that kind of infrastructure. But he also believes that one can drive the other.
Once hotels can be assured of customers, they will be more likely to build. And once the hotels build, it’s more likely that bids will be successful.
Such thinking is actually where the project’s seed originated.
Payne was visiting his home town and spoke with his aunt, councilwoman Kathleen Scott, about the Boy Scout Jamboree.
“I said to her, ‘How is Mount Hope going to receive any benefit? It doesn’t have hotels, and it doesn’t have that many restaurants,’” he says.
So he started throwing out some ideas of his own, which she invited him to share with council and Mayor Michael Martin. He and Martin spent half a day discussing the idea and touring the town. He spoke with council, which said they supported the idea but took no action.
Payne proceeded on his own, launching an online campaign to secure donations for the initial assessment and feasibility study.
“Raising the money without the assistance from the city sends the message to the mayor and council that the community supports the idea and would like to see it move forward,” says Payne. “Donating and assisting with the fundraising campaign is an investment in their future and the town’s future.”
His $22,000 goal may sound lofty for a town its size and economic outlook, but the Mount Hope network extends far beyond the town’s borders.
“Reaching this goal is very realistic, as a $20 donation from 1,000 current and former Mount Hope graduates and supporters will get to that goal,” says Payne.
He’s also looking to communities like Glen Jean, Red Star, Harvey, Hilltop, Pax, Derryhale, and other areas where residents may have attended Mount Hope High School.
“People don’t have to donate their life savings — your part may be $20 or $40, whatever works for you. But for every person who gives more than $20, the number required to contribute goes down.”
Payne also hopes to entice local businesses in the Mount Hope service area to donate.
Perhaps most importantly at the moment, he needs community leaders to carry the message locally.
Some have stepped up, but he hopes more will come forward with support and leadership.
The Rev. Charles McKenney serves on the board of the Mountain of Hope Foundation, an organization of alumni of Mount Hope High School who are working to provide employment opportunities and educational scholarships to the area.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he says. “I am in favor of doing whatever we can to help, because I think it would be a great opportunity or avenue to create jobs in the community and bring more attention and attraction to the town.
“So I’m going to do whatever I can to help Stewart and I’m going to bring it up at our next board meeting to get an overall consensus about how to help him.”
Payne says he’s also found support among other community members like council member Charlie Kidd, town recorder Mike Kessinger, Mount Hope alumnus Rev. Matthew Watts, and Mayor Michael Martin.
The economic impact of such a facility, if it successfully attracts events, would be quite significant. Sports tourism generated $7.68 billion in visitor spending in 2011.
Payne grew up in a Mount Hope that thrived economically and says he wants to bring some of that prosperity back to its current residents.
“The foundation for everything I’ve done in my life is Mount Hope, West Virginia. The interactions I had with teachers there, the adults in the community — it really set me up for success,” he says.
“Mount Hope has contributed a lot to what I became in life, and I want to give back.”
Whether or not the fundraising goal is reached in full, all the money raised will go toward improving the stadium. Cracks in the walls need immediate repair, for example.
To donate to the Rehab Mount Hope Municipal Stadium project, go to http://www.gofundme.com/Mustangs.
Payne is encouraging residents to share the link with their classmates, friends and relatives through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
He has also created a sign for local businesses to hang in their windows.
Payne can be reached at 619-672-7075 to discuss the project. He plans to be in Mount Hope during the 2013 National Scout Jamboree to see for himself what the event will bring to town.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org