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Chamber pushes stadium

January 13, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Members of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce made it clear to local lawmakers Thursday that their top legislative priority this year is a new stadium for Hagerstown.

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"Don't stop this train. It's an exciting project," said Chamber Chairman Tom Newcomer.

About 15 chamber members hosted a luncheon at an Annapolis hotel Thursday for members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. It's a trek county business leaders make every year to discuss their priorities for the 90-day session.

At the top of this year's agenda was the proposed Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum and Sports Complex.

Organizers are asking the delegation to seek an increase in the hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent to help finance the $12 million to $15 million complex.

Only one of the eight local lawmakers, Del. John P. Donoghue, has expressed unconditional support.

Donoghue said the community needs to take advantage of a statewide trend toward stadium building.

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"It's happening all around us. It's everywhere in the state. Everywhere they have done these projects, they're a boost to the economy. I hope we don't isolate ourselves from any kind of economic development," said Donoghue, D-Washington.

Most other lawmakers are taking a wait-and-see approach.

First, they want see the City of Hagerstown to approve the financing package offered by the Washington County Commissioners.

The Commissioners have asked the city to borrow $6 million, with half of the debt service to be paid through the room tax increase.

The city's independent financial advisers are still crunching the numbers, said Richard Phoebus, the Chamber member who has been leading the project.

If the city gives the go-ahead, Phoebus said he'll make a more detailed pitch to the delegation.

Time is ticking down, however. Bills introduced after the first week in February are referred to the House Rules Committee. Those introduced after March 6 require House or Senate consent before they can even be considered.

Chamber members said the community needs a new outdoor venue to improve the quality of life, expand tourism and attract new businesses.

"We need something for people to do besides sitting at a bar and peeling off tip jar tickets," said Suzanne Hayes, chamber president-elect.

The railroad Roundhouse Museum, which lost a battle to save the Hagerstown Roundhouse building last year, is an important part of the plan, she said.

"We need to not slam the door for a second time on the Roundhouse Museum," she said.

The stadium project has more life than last year, when the delegation told the business community their hands were tied without city and county support, Newcomer said.

"Now there's no other excuse here," he said.

At least one local lawmaker has expressed outright opposition.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he can't support a tax increase.

"I'm not opposed to the plan. I just don't plan to vote for a tax," he said.

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