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Studies sought for stadium, convention center

June 24, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Officials from Hagerstown and Washington County at separate meetings on Tuesday discussed the possibility of using a state grant to study the feasibility of a new minor league baseball stadium and a convention center.

Officials would have to find a nonprofit organization to apply for the grant and the county and city governments would have to sign on, said Hagerstown City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman.

The Neighborhood Business Development Program, which has a budget of $7 million this year, will dole out money this September.

That means officials must move quickly if they hope to fund the studies with grant money. Karen Giffin, the city's public information manager, estimated it would cost between $80,000 and $100,000 to fund studies of the stadium and convention center.

Officials also must secure the 50 percent matching funds. Although the state does not require the city and county governments to put up money, Giffin said it probably would improve chances of getting the grant.

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Some officials questioned the wisdom of a feasibility study for a stadium that the County Commissioners have already decided not to help fund.

Commissioner James R. Wade questioned why Hagerstown Suns owner Winston Blenckstone has not been asked to help pay for a study.

"Why wouldn't you approach the private business owner who would benefit from the project?" he said.

The grant would be applicable only in the city's revitalization area, which does not include the proposed stadium site off of Interstate 81.

Giffin said the grant could be written in such a way as to study the current location on Memorial Boulevard and other sites.

But Steven T. Sager, a senior project officer for the Neighborhood Business Development Program, said later in a telephone interview that a back-door approach is unlikely.

"I give them points for creativity, but that's not going to fly," he said.

Blenckstone said in a phone interview that the current location is inadequate.

"I would be opposed to them putting one more cent into this place," he said.

Noting that three other studies have been commissioned, Blenckstone indicated that the proposal for a stadium off I-81 on Salem Avenue is ideal.

Blenckstone said he would support a new study if it gets local government involved, but he said Allegheny Power's offer of $1 million toward a new stadium is contingent upon the I-81 location.

Zimmerman said the Maryland Stadium Authority has told city officials that the study is necessary for getting state funding.

A grant could also help fund a feasibility study for a convention center in downtown Hagerstown.

The County Commissioners expressed skepticism. Wade asked why officials have not solicited input from Frank Turner, who owns the Ramada Inn on Dual Highway, or the Vidoni family, which recently sold the Best Western Venice Inn.

"If two of the best people in the business never built a convention center, wouldn't you want to know why?" he said.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey said he thinks the timing might not be right for a convention center since a facility in Rocky Gap just opened.

"I just think we should concentrate on other things," he said.

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