Blenckstone says Suns' future in question

February 03, 1998



Staff Writers

If local officials and state lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on funding for a $9 million minor league stadium for the Hagerstown Suns, it might mean the end of the local franchise, team owner Winston Blenckstone said Tuesday.

Blenckstone said he will assume that if a stadium deal does not come together in the coming months then it will never come together. It is possible the team could be sold to an owner who would move it to another city, he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Washington County officials, who earlier had expressed skepticism over spending taxpayer money on the stadium, said they might put up some funding as part of a larger economic development project.


If a business park were developed along with the stadium, the county could build the roads and provide other services, said County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers.

The comments came as a surprise to several lawmakers in the General Assembly, who said they assumed the stadium project was bogged down by the county's unwillingness to get involved.

Under the most recent proposal, the state would pay between $4 million and $5 million for a stadium along Interstate 81. The city of Hagerstown would contribute $2.5 million and the county would pay another $2.5 million.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he supports securing state funds for the stadium if there is widespread community support and a local dollar match.

Last week, Harford County lawmakers introduced a bill that asked for $3 million for a minor league baseball stadium in Aberdeen, Md. Local governments in Harford County would match that request with $3 million, he said.

"If they can get it done in Annapolis, there's no reason why this community can't," Blenckstone said.

The county delegation could seek similar legislation, Donoghue said. He would not speculate on its chances this year, however.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he wants details of any local package before he comments on the chances of getting state funds this year.

"I need to see what they are proposing," Munson said.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening continues to support the project if there is a cooperative effort, spokesman Ray Feldmann said.

The governor already has submitted his proposed budget for fiscal 1999, but he is expected to propose undetermined additional spending in a supplemental budget before the legislative session ends on April 13.

Feldmann said Glendening would have to review the stadium proposal along with other funding priorities before including it in the supplemental budget.

"It's too early to tell," he said.

The County Commissioners could vote on their involvement next week. Blenckstone said he had set a Feb. 15 deadline for the local commitments to be secured.

If he gets the local money he can then concentrate on the state dollars, which Blenckstone needs to have approved this year because he's not sure whether elections will change the political climate in the State House.

Blenckstone said he doesn't necessarily need the funds this year, just a commitment that the state eventually will spend money on the project.

The Suns have a one-year lease through the upcoming baseball season to use Municipal Stadium. Blenckstone has said he's willing to sign a 10-year lease at $100,000 a year for a new stadium and would pay for luxury boxes, which would cost $200,000 to $400,000.

He said he "might be making some headway" in securing private money for the project, but would not be specific.

As for his opinion on whether the stadium deal will come together, Blenckstone said, "I'm not confident it will be done. I'm hopeful."

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