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New headquarters to showcase PONY history

| Sunday, July 25, 2004

While Washington Park's Lew Hayes Field in Washington, Pa., has served as the home of the PONY League World Series for more than 50 years, the youth baseball and softball organization soon will have new headquarters.

The Washington County Industrial Development Authority Board of Directors approved a $1.2 million IDA nontaxable bond for construction of an international headquarters in North Franklin Township, adjacent to Falconi Field.

It will serve as the home to PONY, which is relocating from South Strabane Township. In addition to providing the organization with new administrative space, the facility also will house PONY's extensive memorabilia collection, which will be on public display at a museum.

This relocation ties together one of Washington County's most storied baseball traditions with one of its newest, most popular baseball trends.

Washington played host to the first PONY World Series in 1952 and next month will play host to the World Series for the 42nd time in the past 53 years and for the 21st consecutive year.

Remaining in Washington County was a key issue in the relocation, according to Abe Key, president and CEO of PONY Baseball and Softball.

"Our organization has experienced steady growth over the past five decades and we needed a facility that would enhance that growth as well as showcase our organization and display its history," Key said. "Our international board of directors felt strongly that we wanted to remain in Washington County."

In a telephone interview, Key said the new headquarters would be nearly twice the size of the 6,500-square-foot facility in South Strabane Township.

The new facility also will allow for a hall of fame. The World Series will continue to be played at Lew Hays Field in Washington Park, where a new playing surface will be the latest of many recent renovations. Falconi Field's dimensions are too long for PONY play.

The new international headquarters is being constructed adjacent to the home field of the successful Washington Wild Things of the Frontier League. Only in its third year of existence, the Wild Things' remarkable attendance figures have made the professional baseball team one of the area's hottest commodities.

"Being located next to the Wild Things will create a lot of opportunities and add to the synergy of Washington County's baseball tradition. We talk regularly with the Wild Things about projects we want to work on together in the future," Key said.

Key pointed out that the opportunity for PONY, a nonprofit organization, to access low-interest, tax-exempt financing through the WCIDA will enable PONY to accelerate the construction timetable.

"The WCIDA is utilizing its ability to issue bonds allowing a private financial institution to lend the capital to a nonprofit organization at a tax-exempt rate," said Executive Director Jeff Kotula. "Typically, a lending institution has to pay taxes on the interest income it receives from making loans to a for-profit company. In this case, PONY is a nonprofit organization and we were able to allow the bank to provide the loan with tax-exempt status."

"With the international presence and recognition of PONY, our county is constantly in focus on a worldwide scale," Kotula added. "This is especially true during the PONY League World Series every August when tourists from around the globe visit Washington County. This exposure increases the interest in Washington County, not only for baseball, but also for businesses interested in relocating into the area, and adds to the high quality of life that our residents and companies enjoy."

Key emphasized the pride and involvement of the Washington community.

"There are literally thousands and thousands of people in Washington County that volunteer their time and efforts for this event," Key said. "Once the last out is made in the final game, our planning committee (headed by radio sports personality Bob Gregg) begins working on next year's World Series. Our organization has a very storied tradition and it is a great source of pride to us that this is the world's ultimate destination for 13- and 14-year-old baseball players."

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