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The Suns' last inning?

April 22, 1999

Back in February when the Washington County Industrial Foundation undertook a study of the proposal to build a combination business park/baseball stadium near Interstate 81 and Salem Avenue, we said we doubted that it would turn up anything new and startling. What the study could do, we said, was provide an objective look at whether the proposal could work from a business standpoint.

Now the study is done, and the foundation, also known as CHIEF, says the plan won't work, in large part because the city greatly underestimated the cost of purchasing the 68-acre parcel. Under the city's proposal, the cost for acquisition and development would have been $4.2 million.

That cost would have been borne by the county, which was supposed to get its cash back in 20 years, through the sale of lots in the business park. County Commissioner Paul Swartz and Mayor Bob Bruchey still say they're optimistic about the proposal, but the reality is that linking the stadium construction to economic development is the only real way to provide political cover for the county commissioners.

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The question then, is: What happens now? There are several possibilities. The city could negotiate with the property owner to get the land for a price that would allow city officials to develop it according to the city's original plan. Or the city could seek additional private investors to offset the higher-than-estimated cost of the property.

The final possibility is that most officials will continue to dither around, hoping not to bestir that small but vocal chorus of naysayers frequently heard from when the new or unusual is proposed for this area. Suns' owner Winston Blenckstone will lose his last ounce of patience and sell the team to someone who'll move it out of Hagerstown. Then all of the revenue associated with it - motel rooms rented by visiting teams, for example - will go somewhere else.

To all those who love minor league baseball and what it brings to Hagerstown, it's the final inning, and unless you step up to the plate quickly, the game (and the Suns) may be lost.

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