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County endorses stadium study

July 01, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to endorse an economic feasibility study to assess the viability of a new minor league baseball stadium - but only if no county money is used to fund it.

The 4-0 vote kept alive the possibility that a new baseball stadium eventually might be built in Hagerstown.

Commissioner James R. Wade, a vocal critic of public financing for a stadium, was absent Tuesday.

Business leaders urged the commissioners to back the study, which would analyze the best spot for a stadium to replace the aging Municipal Stadium on Memorial Boulevard.

"It sounds like a golden opportunity to me to at least move forward on the study phase," said Philip A. Kelly, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

Hagerstown officials told the commissioners last week that the Maryland Stadium Authority requires the study as a prerequisite for state funding.

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They identified a state grant that could pay for half of the $40,000 to $50,000 cost of the study, but only if leaders from the city and county back it.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, tourism Director Ben Hart and Greater Hagerstown Committee Chairman Robert J. Cirincione sent letters to the commissioners urging support for a study.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said in an interview that the Hagerstown City Council will vote at its meeting next week on whether to back the study. If the council approves the study, officials would work to put together a package of city and private funds to pay for the study, he said.

The stadium proposal has drawn fire from critics who depict it as a taxpayer giveaway to a private businessman, Winston Blenckstone, who owns the Class-A Suns, a Toronto Blue Jays farm club.

Kelly said a stadium would benefit the community long after Blenckstone is gone.

"Does anybody remember the owner of the first minor league team to play in Municipal Stadium?" he said. "It would not be a gift to a single businessman It would be a community asset."

The County Commissioners in February rejected a proposal to spend county money to build a minor league baseball stadium off Interstate 81 in the West End of Hagerstown.

In an interview on Tuesday, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he opposes using taxpayer money on a project that would not show a financial return for the county.

Snook said the project is worth examining, as long as the county does not have to pay for the study.

But he made it clear that he remains opposed to financing a new stadium with public money unless the county could recoup the investment.

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