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Larger private contribution may be needed for stadium

February 05, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

The latest funding plan for a new Hagerstown baseball stadium and railroad museum complex may require private fund-raising efforts to raise millions more than previously expected.

The plan, which was proposed by the Washington County delegation to the state legislature and made public Thursday, does not provide as much government money for the project as was originally requested. But those pushing for a new minor league baseball stadium say they are happy with the plan, and they are confident private contributions can, if necessary, make up the difference in funding.

"It's not as much as we had hoped for but it's certainly a reasonable amount, and we'll just have to find a way to come up with the rest of the money," said Dick Phoebus, chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce stadium task force.

The task force developed and proposed a plan for the $12 million to $15 million Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex. The stadium would be the new home field for the Hagerstown Suns, who now play at the city-owned Municipal Stadium.

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The task force's plan called for the city and Washington County governments to provide $3 million each. The state would be asked for $6 million, and another $3 million would come from private donations.

Under the delegation's plan, the city and county's combined contributions would be a maximum of $5 million - at least $1 million less than the combined $6 million under the task force's proposal.

The delegation plan would provide $283,000 a year for a new stadium or other economic development projects through an increase in Washington County's hotel-motel tax. That money, combined with an anticipated $120,000 annual contribution from the city, could pay the debt service for the city to float bonds worth from $4.5 million to $5 million, Hagerstown City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said Friday.

The bond money would be considered the city and county contribution to the project.

Zimmerman said the city would issue bonds for the money. The value of the bonds, which they are anticipating would be tax-exempt, would be determined by the terms of bonds.

Zimmerman said if some of the bonds are taxable they could be costlier, but the city may be able to get the same amount of money by issuing bonds for a longer term.

The delegation plan does not address how much state money would go toward the project.

Phoebus said the task force will request a $6 million to $7 million commitment from the governor. Stadium supporters are hoping for at least $500,000 to $750,000 in this year's state budget to pay for design and planning.

But for several recent baseball stadium projects in Maryland, the state contribution has been about 25 percent of the total project cost. If the cost of the local stadium were $15 million, a 25 percent share would be $3.75 million.

If the state were to contribute $7 million, and the city and county were to come up with about $5 million, the task force would have to raise $3 million for a $15 million project, as previously expected.

Even if the cost of the project were held to $12 million, the private sector would probably still have to come up with at least $3 million because one of the conditions of city funding is that there is at least $3 million in private funding for the project.

Should the city and county share end up being closer to $4.5 million, and if the state contribution were $4 million, or about 26.6 percent of a $15 million project, the task force might have to raise $6.5 million.

"This makes it incumbent upon the private sector to step up to the plate," State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said Thursday.

Phoebus said he always expected to have to raise between $3 million and $5 million in private funds. If the task force needs to raise more, Phoebus said he is confident it can do so.

Phoebus has said the task force has verbal commitments from potential private donors worth about $1 million. He said most of those contributions would be in-kind support, and he has declined to reveal the donors.

Allegheny Energy has expressed an interest in paying $1 million for naming rights to a stadium. But a company spokesman, Guy Fletcher, said last week that the company would re-evaluate its offer once a final decision has been made on a location for a stadium.

The preferred site for the new stadium and railroad museum is off Wesel Boulevard near Burhans Boulevard. Phoebus said there are no other sites under consideration at this time.

The Hagerstown Suns also would be expected to make a "significant" contribution to the project, said Phoebus. He wouldn't say how much the team may contribute, but he said the team's contribution could come from a surcharge on ticket sales or concessions.

If sufficient private funds can't be raised?

"Then I guess we won't have a stadium," Phoebus said Friday.

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