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Suns want an answer on stadium

January 31, 1998

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Hagerstown Suns owner Winston Blenckstone said he wants state funding for a new minor league baseball stadium approved during this legislative session because he doesn't know who will be in the governor's office next year.

"For us, we feel this is a critical year," Blenckstone told Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau officials during a Thursday board meeting at Municipal Stadium.

"We're just asking for an answer. That's all we're asking for," he said.

During a stop in Washington County two weeks ago, Gov. Parris Glendening said he would be willing to support some state funding for a new stadium if local governments and private investors are behind it first.

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Some Washington County Commissioners aren't enthusiastic about spending taxpayer dollars on a new stadium.

One tourism official said the fall elections could help a new stadium get support from the county since the commissioners' seats will be up for grabs.

The task force's chairman, Glenn Presgraves, said he didn't think the group would be done in time for the matter to be considered this legislative session.

Presgraves said he wasn't up to speed on the group's progress since he'd missed the last two meetings.

Member Dale Swope said he couldn't speak for the entire task force, but didn't think the group would be done until early April.

The legislative session ends on April 13.

Swope said no decisions have been made. The task force has been gathering information, including a feasibility study done by a Frostburg State University class that Swope said presents a positive outlook of a new stadium's economic impact on the area.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said an outside facilitator might be brought in to speed up the task force's pace so state legislators can consider stadium funding this session.

Bruchey said he didn't know whether such a facilitator would work on a paid or volunteer basis.

Blenckstone said a financing plan for a $9 million stadium should be in place in case the task force recommends a new stadium.

Even if the task force supported a new stadium, the governor has said local governments need to provide financial support for the state to get involved, said state Del. John P. Donoghue.

A bill was introduced Friday asking for $3 million for a minor league baseball stadium in Aberdeen, Md., to be named after the Ripken family, said Donoghue, D-Washington.

Local governments in Harford County would match that request with $3 million, he said.

If the local stadium task force is supportive and funding doesn't come through this legislative session, Blenckstone said he doesn't know whether the team will still be here next year.

The Suns have a one-year lease through the upcoming baseball season to use Municipal Stadium.

Whether there is private funding for a stadium would be a factor in whether the team stays another year, Blenckstone said.

City officials have given Blenckstone permission to talk to local companies about stadium naming rights to generate more funding.

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