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Stadium planners seek state funding

January 12, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Washington County politicians and business leaders are working to develop a funding plan for a new minor league baseball stadium complex for the Hagerstown Suns.

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Stadium supporters say it is too late to expect the Maryland General Assembly to vote on funding for a multi-million dollar stadium during the 1999 legislative session, which begins Wednesday.

But it might not be too late to persuade state legislators to pay for design plans that could cost as much as $250,000, said Fred Teeter Jr., president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber of Commerce has organized a committee, called the Stadium Task Force, to pursue the funding request.

The task force is headed by Hagerstown City Councilman Alfred Boyer and Washington County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz. Both are stadium supporters.

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Teeter said that the task force will come up with a funding plan for the entire project, which includes building a new stadium and a business park on 68 acres near the intersection of Interstate 81 and Salem Avenue in Hagerstown.

Current estimates for the stadium and business park project range from $10 million to $12 million.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, who is a task force member, said he believes city officials will support the project. He said the task force will focus on preparing a "cohesive presentation for the county and the state."

Last year, the Washington County Commissioners rejected a plea for money for a stadium.

But with four of the five commissioners new to the job, stadium backers believe they have another shot at getting the county to back the project.

"It's an opportunity for a fresh look," Teeter said. "I've heard positive but cautious noises (from the commissioners)."

State Delegates Robert A. McKee and Christopher B. Shank, both Washington County Republicans, said that if the city and county don't both financially support a new stadium the state will not help to fund it.

Shank, who opposes spending state money on a new stadium, and McKee, who is undecided on the matter, said the Washington County delegation will wait until the city and county act before they decide whether to support stadium funding from the state.

Exactly how much public money would be requested for the stadium project is not known.

But working estimates indicate the City of Hagerstown will be asked to contribute between $2 million and $2.5 million; Washington County another $2 million; and the state as much as $5 million.

Allegheny Energy has offered to pay $1 million for stadium naming rights. And Suns owner Winston Blenckstone would pay up to $400,000 for luxury suites at a new stadium, said Blenckstone's son David, who is the team general manager.

Bruchey said the city would have to borrow the money to pay for its share of a stadium project.

He said the city could use tax revenue from the proposed business park to pay off the debt.

"We would not increase taxes on businesses already in the city," Bruchey said.

The mayor said he is confident a new business park could be filled.

If built, the stadium would be the new home of the Hagerstown Suns, a Class A baseball team affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Suns currently play at Municipal Stadium on the corner of Cannon Avenue and Memorial Boulevard. But the Blenckstones say the 69-year-old stadium has outlived its usefulness.

Winston Blenckstone, whose first season in Hagerstown was 1993, has not said what will happen to the team if a new stadium is not built.

Local officials believe the Suns will leave if the team does not get a new stadium.

"What's it going to cost to keep them here? A new stadium," Bruchey said.

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