County Commissioners vote no on stadium funds

February 10, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS and GUY FLETCHERs

County Commissioners vote no on stadium funds

The Washington County Commissioners may have dealt a fatal blow to the idea of a new Hagerstown baseball stadium Tuesday by voting 3-2 against any county involvement.

Without county money, there is almost no chance of state funding, according to lawmakers and a representative for Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

"It's a dead issue," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Hagerstown Councilman William M. Breichner said he was surprised to hear Tuesday that county funding, and not just county support, was necessary if the project were to receive state funding.


"If that's true, that's disappointing because we've been working diligently to bring this thing to a positive result. We knew the county didn't have a lot of money to start with," Breichner said.

"A dollar is a dollar, regardless of where it comes from," he said.

If the county cannot contribute, the city might have to "bite the bullet" and kick in another $1.8 million in addition to the $2.5 million the city would chip in under the proposal, Breichner said.

The deal is too close to coming together to let it fall apart at this point, Breichner said.

The commissioners could help by approving state Program Open Space funding for site acquisition, he said. The commissioners distribute those state funds.

But lawmakers said county participation was required to show a broad base of support, needed if state funds are to be secured for the project.

The Hagerstown Suns baseball team had put together a plan for a $10 million stadium that would include $4.4 million from the state, $2.5 million from the city and $1.8 million from the county. Another $1.3 million would be raised privately.

But at the county's Tuesday morning meeting, Commissioner James R. Wade introduced a motion that said the county would not spend any money on the stadium, either directly or indirectly by building roads and sewers.

Commissioner John S. Shank and Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook voted with him. Commissioners Ronald L. Bowers and R. Lee Downey voted against, saying they wanted to keep open the possibility that the county would fund roads and sewers for a new West End Business Park, which would include a new stadium.

Both said they opposed county spending on the stadium itself.

Wade, however, said he believed state and county money would be better spent on the county's water and sewer problems, on education and on new roads and bridges.

"I just don't understand how we can prioritize baseballs over textbooks in this state," he said.

In Annapolis, Munson said other stadium proposals have come to the state with city and county funding included as evidence of broad public support.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said not having the county's support "sure changes the dynamic if we're going to ask the governor to become involved."

Glendening spokesman Ray Feldmann said it would be "difficult" for the project to move forward without the county.

Suns owner Winston Blenckstone told the commissioners that a Washington County company has agreed to pay $1 million over 12 years to have the stadium bear its name. The company was identified later as Allegheny Energy.

The commissioners weren't swayed by a presentation by Bowers on the merits of a business park that would include a stadium, a new road between Marshall Street and Md. 58 and a state tourist information center.

The park could generate sewage for the underused Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant and help reduce the county's $3.5 million subsidy of the water and sewer department, Bowers said.

"I think the county has missed a major opportunity to partner with the city in developing the West End Business Park. I think we're being penny wise and pound foolish," Bowers said.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II told the commissioners that the park would provide the types of jobs and amenities, including a grocery store, that the West End needs.

But Shank and Wade said the business park would work with or without a stadium and that it could be discussed at a later date.

Bruchey said later that if the commissioners built the roads and sewers for the business park, they also could be used for the neighboring stadium.

According to Blenckstone, $6.9 million of the $10 million project is actually to build the stadium. The rest is for site acquisition, roads and utilities.

Blenckstone rebuffed

Blenckstone had pleaded with the commissioners for support.

"Do you all consider quality of life an issue?" a frustrated Blenckstone asked.

Snook replied that they do, but that the commissioners had other priorities.

Wade said new businesses were far more concerned with the quality of schools than with stadiums.

"I don't know of any business that ever came to the county because of minor league baseball," he said.

Wade said he didn't know why the Toronto Blue Jays, the Suns' major league affiliate, weren't putting $10 million, $5 million, or even $10,000 into a new stadium considering what they pay their players.

Blenckstone said that all stadiums built in Maryland were publicly funded, with the exception of Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. But even that stadium, he said, received public money for roads and other support structures.

Staff Writer Julie E. Greene contributed to this story.

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