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Commissioners split over new Suns stadium

September 15, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners don't plan on spending lots of county tax money on a new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns, but some say they would support the project if state money becomes available.

The commissioners are scheduled to discuss options for a baseball stadium this morning at 9:30 a.m. at the commissioners meeting room at 100 W. Washington St.

Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said the county, city and community leaders should come together to examine the feasibility of and ultimately support a sports complex that includes a stadium. Money could be forthcoming from the state if the community rallies behind the project, Bowers said.

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But County Commissioner James R. Wade said he opposed public funding of a baseball stadium for the Suns, which would cost an estimated $8 million to $10 million.

"I just don't think it's the responsibility of the taxpayer to subsidize professional sports teams. Professional sports teams aren't paying their own way, and it's time that they do that," Wade said.

Major league baseball players are being paid millions of dollars because "naive municipal and elected officials are gullible" and building stadiums, Wade said.

Wade said he was surprised that other commissioners would even consider getting involved while the county struggles with a $56 million water and sewer debt and many capital improvement needs.

"To me it's really simple. I can use your tax money to build roads, bridges and schools or I can build a stadium for the Toronto Blue Jays. To me it's a no-brainer," Wade said.

Bowers said he wasn't interested in spending large amounts of county money on the stadium.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey said he hasn't had many people calling him up demanding a new stadium. "I can't see it unless there is more support from the county citizens," he said.

Downey said he might support upgrades to the existing stadium or some kind of package involving soccer and other fields.

Commissioner Gregory I. Snook said he could envision the county purchasing land to the north or west of Hagerstown for use as sports fields using Program Open Space money. "I've always tried to look ahead for the future and I think we need more parks in the north and west," Snook said.

Part of that recreational land could be set aside for a stadium, Snook said.

Snook also said the county couldn't afford to build the stadium without state help.

"The money's going to have to come from the state...I know the county doesn't have that kind of money," he said.

Suns owner Winston Blenckstone has set an Oct. 1 deadline to decide whether he will honor the final five years of his 10-year lease of Hagerstown Municipal Stadium with the City of Hagerstown.

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