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Company completes stadium study

December 14, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

A study to determine the feasibility of building a new minor league baseball stadium for the Hagerstown Suns doesn't make a recommendation but is cautiously optimistic about the benefits such a facility would offer.

A new stadium for the Suns could increase revenue, jobs, taxes and attendance at games, according to the study by the Minneapolis firm Conventions Sports & Leisure International.

Suns owner Winston Blenckstone has said he wants a new stadium to improve attendance for the Suns, a Class A Toronto Blue Jays affiliate.

With a new ballpark, the Suns average attendance could climb from 1,785 people per game to 3,200, according to the study. That's based on a 78 percent average increase in attendance for teams moving to new stadiums built within the same market.

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The Suns theoretically could support an average attendance as high as 3,700 people, based on population ratios, the study states.

Blenckstone and his son, David, the team's general manager, could not be reached for comment Monday because they were attending Major League Baseball's winter meetings in Nashville.

The study's findings will be presented to the public at 4 p.m. on Tuesday in Frostburg State University's downtown conference room at 16 W. Washington St. The public will be given an opportunity to comment, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

The city set aside $50,000 from the Community Betterment Fund for the study, which also estimates possible economic impact of a new stadium.

If the stadium were to draw an average of 3,500 people per game during the first few years of operation, it could generate $4 million in annual spending. The current team and stadium generate almost $2.5 million.

A new stadium could generate $1.5 million a year in wages and salaries earned by employees of businesses affected by the stadium.

The economic impact could decrease in later years of operation if attendance declines, the study states.

Construction of a new ballpark would mean a one-time infusion of $4.3 million into Washington County's economy, the study says.

Bruchey said he thinks the study is favorable.

Bruchey said the attendance and spending projections show a need for a new stadium.

CSL International based its findings on some basic assumptions.

One of those assumptions is that Municipal Stadium would be closed so the two stadiums do not compete for events.

The Suns are expected to account for 68 of approximately 100 annual events at a new stadium.

If a new stadium were built, Bruchey said he wants to sell Municipal Stadium to a private investor and get the property back on the tax rolls.

There has been some talk that the stadium, which is near Washington County Hospital, could be razed and a hospital outpatient program building constructed there, Bruchey said.

If city officials want to ask the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly for state funds for a new stadium, they must act fast, Bruchey said. The legislative session begins Jan. 13.

The amount of money the city would request hasn't been determined and will depend on whether the Washington County Commissioners will contribute, he said.

CSL International said the preferred site for a new stadium is along Interstate 81 between Salem Avenue and Marshall Street.

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