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Suns seek 1-year lease extension

September 16, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

and STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writers

Hagerstown Suns owner Winston Blenckstone has asked city officials to extend the minor league baseball team's lease for Municipal Stadium through the 1998 baseball season.

Blenckstone said Tuesday he is exercising his option to escape from the final five years of a 10-year lease with the city. The first half of the lease expires Sept. 30.

"We just want to go one more year here and see what happens," Blenckstone said.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said he doesn't foresee any problems with extending the lease a year. Council members are expected to approve the extension at next Tuesday's regular meeting.

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"We're pleased that they've requested the extension and that gives us time to work on the stadium issue," said Zimmerman.

Blenckstone has said he wants a new home for the Suns to help attract more spectators. A possible site for a sports complex is off Exit 7 of Interstate 81 between Salem Avenue and Marshall Street. The 68-acre site is owned by Trust A&B of which brothers Vincent and Charles Groh are trustees.

Blenckstone said he hasn't decided whether the Suns would leave Washington County at the end of the lease extension if there are no plans for a new stadium.

"It's unfortunate. We're just going to have to be in a holding pattern for one year," Blenckstone said.

"What happens with this franchise will be up to community leaders," he said.

Washington County Commissioners and Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II on Tuesday discussed prospects for a new stadium and sports complex in the north or west parts of the city.

Commissioners Ronald L. Bowers and James R. Wade will be part of a community group that will look at the feasibility of a new baseball stadium and sports complex.

Wade said he opposes any taxpayer funding for a stadium for the Hagerstown Suns, even if the money comes from the state government. He said he'd rather see money for schools or other county needs.

Bowers said the commissioners shouldn't judge the project before it is examined in detail. He said Wade was making political points by saying he supported education instead of stadiums.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he would be interested in acquiring space for a stadium and sports complex, including soccer fields, using Program Open Space money.

Commissioner John S. Shank said he would support a new park or sports complex but would have difficulty supporting a new stadium.

"We've been criticized a lot for building something and hoping that (business) will come. I can't see where it will happen without a lot of tax dollars going into it, and not just to build it," he said.

The cost of the stadium project has been estimated at $8 milliion to $10 million.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey said he could see a possible upgrade to the existing stadium.

Bruchey, however, had a much more positive take on the possibility of a new stadium, especially if state funding is available.

"I would rather see it in my back yard than in Aberdeen (Md.)," Bruchey said. Bruchey said getting businesses involved, possibly through skybox sales, could help pay for a portion of the stadium.

Council members are expected to vote Tuesday on a contract to appraise the value of the possible Interstate 81 stadium site. The appraisals are needed to apply for Open Space funds.

The Class A South Atlantic League team, an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, drew 115,011 fans to Municipal Stadium in 1997.

The Suns do not pay rent for the stadium at the corner of Memorial and Eastern boulevards, Zimmerman said. They stopped paying rent about three years ago in exchange for maintaining the stadium and the field, he said.

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