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Aberdeen stadium example for county

January 29, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - While Hagerstown community leaders continued their struggle to build a new minor-league baseball stadium, the state pledged $7 million to another stadium last week.

Backed by a $9 million gift from Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr., the $25 million stadium and baseball academy will be built in Ripken's hometown of Aberdeen, Md.

"We believe this is a very good use for our public resources," Gov. Parris Glendening said at Wednesday's announcement of the state funding.

The Aberdeen complex is expected to generate $26.5 million a year in economic activity, Glendening said.

Local lawmakers said Glendening's commitment is encouraging for Hagerstown.

"That's what needs to happen. We can do it if everybody wants it to happen," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

In Aberdeen's case, the project had city, county and private commitments. Then the state came in as the final partner, Hecht said.

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Aberdeen's example shows that if there's enough local support, Hagerstown is on good political footing to ask for state help, lawmakers said.

"I think it's encouraging. I think it's a fairness issue from the executive," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Sometime this year, stadium backers will ask Glendening for $500,000 in planning money, Teeter said.

But first, the council has to certify the plan, he said.

"As frustrating as it is, we can't put the cart before the horse," Teeter said.

Munson is concerned that the project lacks focus, local leadership and private investment.

"I think there's a very long distance to go on this issue," Munson said, particularly in the area of private funding, Munson said.

"I think that's what's missing in Washington County. It doesn't reverberate well with the citizens of Washington County," he said.

Local leaders envision private investment, but have not been specific about where it's coming from.

Two years ago, Allegheny Power offered to pay $1 million for naming rights, but the company hasn't formally agreed to anything, said Fred Teeter, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

There is no heavy hitter like Ripken behind the Hagerstown effort.

But the Aberdeen project did not come together smoothly or quickly, said Aberdeen Mayor Douglas S. Wilson.

The city has been working on a stadium for three years, he said. The city and Harford County have jointly pledged $7 million.

Aberdeen city leaders have taken some political heat for the way the city is paying for its share of the stadium.

The city bought 46 acres of land near the stadium, right off Interstate 95. After putting in roads and utilities, the city will sell building lots at a profit.

"We felt the returns would far exceed the expenditures. That's kind of local government having a vision," Wilson said.

Aberdeen has received $700,000 in planning money from the state's bond bill program, where the state borrows money and gives it to construction programs in the form of matching grants.

Washington County lawmakers haven't been asked to support a bond bill for a Hagerstown stadium. And they probably wouldn't be willing to back one considering the $4.5 million in requests they've already received from nonprofits such as the YMCA and Red Cross, Munson said.

Frederick County is considering a $500,000 bond bill to kick-start a $7 million upgrade of its 10-year-old stadium, Hecht said.

Hecht was invited to Wednesday's announcement because the new Atlantic League team that will play at the Aberdeen stadium is owned by the same company that owns the Frederick Keys.

See related story: Local funding plan for stadium revised

See related story sidebar: Stadium sidebar

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