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Bruchey backing new stadium

January 05, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Three years after the owner of the Hagerstown Suns asked area politicians for a new stadium, Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II is trying to figure out ways to fund the city's share.

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Winston Blenckstone said Monday it's time for Hagerstown and Washington County politicians to decide whether they want to chip in for a new $8.5 million baseball stadium.

Bruchey wants the stadium on the city's agenda in 1999, and is calling for a public discussion of how to fund the project.

"I guarantee there will be a meeting (about the stadium) within the next month," Bruchey said during a telephone interview Monday. "We'll put our heads together and figure out a way to fund it."

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Bruchey said the city's share would be about $2.5 million. He said one option would be to pay the bill with a 20-year bond issue.

The mayor was adamant that residents should not pay for the stadium through property taxes. He said the bond could be paid off through revenue from taxes levied on businesses.

The preferred site for the proposed stadium is along Route 81 and Salem Avenue in Hagerstown.

The current proposal is to build the stadium using funds from the city, another $2 million from Washington County, as much as $5 million from the state, in addition to $1 million each from Blenckstone and Allegheny Energy, which would obtain naming rights to the stadium.

The government funds also would be used to pay for road improvements, which Blenckstone said could cost about $2 million.

Blenckstone said he believes state funds will be forthcoming if the city and county provide financial support.

Washington County Commissioner Paul Swartz, a supporter of a new stadium, said he believes the commissioners are waiting to see if the city decides to back the project.

Last year the County Commissioners rejected a plea for money for a stadium, but Blenckstone is hoping a new group of commissioners will give him a different answer. Four of the five commissioners are new to the job.

"We need the city to start the ball rolling," said Suns General Manager David Blenckstone, who was present with his father for a Monday morning interview at The Herald-Mail.

Winston Blenckstone, whose first season in Hagerstown was 1993, said if nothing is done within the next month, he will have to "look at all their options."

If the request for a new stadium eventually is turned down, Winston Blenckstone said he could either sell the team, relocate the franchise, or stay at Municipal Stadium on the corner of Cannon Avenue and Memorial Boulevard. He said, however, the existing stadium has "major fundamental problems."

He was not willing to commit to any of these options.

When asked if the Suns would leave Hagerstown if a new stadium were not built, David Blenckstone said, "It's not in our best interest to move and we've never made any threats and it's not our intention to. But that's the nature of the business."

"And this community knows that. They've lost the Suns twice before," the elder Blenckstone added.

Winston Blenckstone was referring to the times when two Baltimore Orioles' affiliates moved from Hagerstown to Frederick, Md., and Bowie, Md.

Bruchey's planned public meeting would be the first since a Dec. 15 public meeting to discuss a private study of the economic impact of a new stadium.

The study, done by the Minneapolis firm Conventions Sports & Leisure International, concluded that a new stadium for the Suns could increase revenue, jobs, taxes and attendance at games.

With a new ballpark, the Suns average attendance could climb from 1,785 people per game to 3,200, according to the study.

The Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, could support an average attendance as high as 3,700 people, based on population ratios, the study states.

It could generate $4 million in annual spending, the study said. The current team and stadium generate almost $2.5 million, according to the study.

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