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'Yes' to new stadium

January 06, 1999

After two years of delay, it's time for Washington County's local officials to make a yea-or-nay decision on a new minor league baseball stadium. We say "yes," for several reasons.

Minor league baseball has been a Hagerstown tradition for more than 20 years, contributing a great deal to the quality of life here. If the current franchise leaves, it's unlikely another will be located here, with the Frederick Keys so close.

The Hagerstown Suns' owners have been patient. Despite an escape clause which allowed them to break their lease if the club didn't meet attendance targets at Municipal Stadium, they didn't pull up stakes. Instead they signed two one-year agreements, in hopes that a more permanent arrangement would be forthcoming. It's unlikely they'll sign a long-term pact without the promise of a more modern facility on Interstate 81.

We expect to hear that the community can't afford a new $10 million stadium when the county has a $53 million water and sewer debt. That problem is serious, but to every public works project on hold until it's solved would be a mistake, especially before funding options have been fully explored.

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Until there's a decision to proceed, who knows which other businesses will follow Allegheny Power's lead and contribute to construction costs? Until there's an agreement to move ahead, the city council can't address Mayor Bob Bruchey's concerns about using property tax dollars by looking at earmarking other levies, like the amusement tax, for that purpose.

As for the county's share, we still like former county commissioner Ron Bowers' proposal to develop a business park on the same site. That might make it possible to get grant funds for roads, utilities and parking lots to serve both the stadium and business park tenants. And business park tenants could use stadium facilities, like meeting rooms and restaurants, when no games are being played.

Those citizens who counsel caution deserve to be heard, because this will be a facility for the community and not just for a baseball club. But because of what the stadium will add, in terms of recreational opportunities and economic impact, we believe this is a risk worth taking.

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