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State cool on stadium funding

February 11, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

by Kvin Gilbert / staff photographer

click images for enlargements

A spokesman for the governor said Wednesday the state probably will balk at funding a new baseball stadium for Hagerstown even if the city comes up with more money to offset the Washington County Commissioners' decision not to back the project.

But Hagerstown Suns and city officials said Wednesday they haven't given up on a new stadium.

Councilman William M. Breichner said city officials want to discuss the matter with Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., both of whom have said they would support the project.

"We need to do everything possible to bring it to fruition," Breichner said.

Breichner said the city, which had planned to contribute $2.5 million toward the $10 million project, might need to increase its share.

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Glendening spokesman Ray Feldmann said state officials would have to decide whether additional city funding could make up for a lack of county funding. Feldman said he wasn't optimistic.

"I would say it would be highly unlikely we'd commit any state resource unless we had assurances that the county and the city could be equal partners," Feldmann said.

The Washington County Commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday not to provide funds for a stadium.

State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said verbal support from the county wouldn't be enough to secure state money.

"I think what the governor is saying is that they're looking for broad-based support for this kind of activity," Munson said. "It's going to take money. You don't support the project by lip service."

Local officials have until the end of the General Assembly session on April 13 to secure state funding for the project in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1, Feldmann said.

Even if the state contributes, the funding won't be as much as Suns officials expected, Feldmann said.

Suns officials have promoted a funding formula that calls for the state to provide $4.4 million, matching the city's $2.5 million and the $1.8 million they had hoped the county would contribute. Another $1.3 million would come from private sources.

The formula the state usually follows is 25 percent each from the state, county, city and private sources, although every stadium is considered on a case-by-case basis, Feldmann said.

During a Wednesday press conference announcing a naming rights deal struck with Allegheny Power for a new stadium, Blenckstone quoted famed baseball player Yogi Berra.

"It ain't over 'til it's over. I feel like the Energizer bunny. I keep beating my drum so maybe some day it will happen," he said.

"If the state's not in it, it's a dead issue," Blenckstone said after the press conference.

Until that is certain, he said he would continue to seek private funding sources.

Allegheny Power has agreed to donate $1 million in exchange for naming rights for the new stadium.

Blenckstone said he would try to raise money with naming rights for the stadium's picnic area, other sponsorships within the park, luxury suite rentals and in-kind contributions. Blenckstone has said he would contribute about $300,000 for the luxury suites.

If the stadium were built, Blenckstone said the Suns would sign a 10-year lease with the city at $100,000 a year.

County Administrator Rodney Shoop said county officials will determine whether state Program Open Space funds can be used to buy land for a stadium. The County Commissioners distribute those state funds.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said the county could help by getting involved in a proposed business park next to the stadium near Interstate 81 in the city's West End. Any roads and utilities built for the business park could be used for the stadium, he said.

But "whether or not the county wishes to participate in the business park venture is a moot point because we don't care," Bruchey said.

Breichner's suggestion that the city increase its financial backing hasn't received solid support from the mayor and other council members.

The stadium alone would cost $6.9 million, toward which Bruchey said he would support the city providing $2.5 million.

He said he wouldn't reach into taxpayers' pockets for more than that to make up for the portion they had hoped would come from the county.

Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein said she could support city funding for a stadium based on what she heard during a council meeting held behind closed doors Tuesday night with Blenckstone.

Certain elements would have to be in place, she said, but wouldn't elaborate.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer could not be reached for comment.

Council members Lewis C. Metzner and J. Wallace McClure said they understand the commissioners' stance because of the county's financial difficulties.

"Government needs things and government wants things. And maybe it would be nice, but we don't need it. We have more pressing needs in the county right now and I don't blame the commissioners," McClure said.

McClure said he would vote against city funding for the stadium.

"It's going to strain the city budget. I haven't found that proverbial tree that grows money yet," McClure said.

At the press conference Bruchey said there always will be naysayers and pointed to the Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant as an example of a project that had its share of naysayers.

"But guess what? They (the Washington County Commissioners) did it anyway," he said.

That project has come under fire in recent years because of the $55 million water and sewer debt it created.

Staff Writer Brendan Kirby contributed to this story.

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