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City OKs stadium proposal

November 23, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Plans for a new baseball stadium in Hagerstown have cleared the first hurdle, but tougher obstacles remain.

As expected, the Hagerstown City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to spend up to $3 million for the construction of a new stadium/railroad museum, providing certain conditions are met.

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Those conditions include requirements that the stadium be built within the city, that no city property taxes pay for construction of the stadium, and that Washington County, the state or other governmental sources provide at least $6 million toward the project.

Where the city would come up with money for a new stadium has not been determined.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure, who cast the lone vote against the measure, called for a referendum on whether the city should contribute toward a new stadium.

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The other council members did not discuss his request for a referendum, but two Hagerstown residents who spoke during the public comments portion of Tuesday's meeting said they would like to see the matter decided by referendum.

Those pushing for a new stadium say the next step is to convince a majority of the Washington County Commissioners to commit to the project. The state is not expected to help fund a new stadium unless the city and county back the project.

Of the five County Commissioners, only Paul L. Swartz has publicly supported spending county funds on the proposed Hagerstown Roundhouse Sports Complex, a combination baseball stadium and railroad museum that would cost $12 million to $15 million to build. A site for the proposed complex has not been selected.

Swartz said a "crucial" meeting between the commissioners and members of a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce task force that put together the stadium proposal is scheduled for Tuesday.

During that meeting, task force representatives will discuss sources of private funding for the project, Swartz said.

Private individuals or companies will contribute at least $3 million toward construction of a new stadium, according to the chamber proposal. This level of private sector funding is one of the conditions of city funding.

Swartz said the commissioners should be ready to vote on whether they will support funding a new stadium within a week of Tuesday's meeting.

City Councilman Alfred W. Boyer, a supporter of government funding for a new stadium, said the commissioners "have been and continue to be" the biggest hurdle for this project.

"I recognize the problems they have ... but it's time to say yes or no. Are we going to keep minor league baseball or are we going to kiss it off?" Boyer asked.

Boyer and others believe that without a new stadium the Hagerstown Suns franchise will leave Washington County.

The Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, would be the primary tenant of a new stadium.

Suns owner Winston Blenckstone said city support is "a real important first step."

"This is a very positive sign for us but it doesn't get the job done," Blenckstone said.

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