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Stadium bid hangs on hotel tax increase

February 23, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Stadium supporters said Wednesday they can't ask Gov. Parris Glendening to help build a new minor league baseball stadium in Hagerstown until the local legislative delegation votes to double the hotel-motel tax.

cont. from front page

But one lawmaker said the delegation also needs to take a separate vote on the stadium issue.

The proposed lodging tax increase would raise enough money for the local share of a $12 million to $15 million Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex, said Richard Phoebus, chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's stadium task force.

Phoebus said he and a group of local stadium supporters are ready to send the governor a letter asking the state for $6 million for construction and $750,000 for design, he told lawmakers at a Greater Hagerstown Committee breakfast in Annapolis.

The letter says the stadium has the support of Hagerstown, Washington County and the county delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

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Del. Christopher B. Shank said after the meeting that the letter to Glendening is premature because the delegation has never taken a vote on the stadium.

"I think we owe it to the community to take a position and move on," said Shank, R-Washington.

Despite the fact that he largely crafted the tax plan, Shank said he opposes the stadium.

Meanwhile, Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, told stadium supporters at the meeting the delegation is still building consensus on the plan's details.

"This delegation is still moving toward a plan that would not stand in (the stadium's) way," McKee told the group of about 20.

As the proposal stands, the hotel-motel tax would be raised from 3 percent to 6 percent.

Some of the proceeds would be divided among the nine municipalities in the form of tourism grants.

Hagerstown officials have said they would use their share for a stadium.

Phoebus said if the delegation votes for a hotel-motel tax, that would demonstrate enough support on the part of the delegation for the project to move forward.

But a vote against the stadium would politically kill the project.

McKee has said lawmakers would like to find a way for their plan to funnel more money into paying down the county's $52.3 million debt.

Some citizens who came to a public hearing on the plan earlier this month told lawmakers that their top priority should be debt reduction.

Phoebus told lawmakers to keep in mind that the audience was packed with stadium supporters who did not speak.

"We did not want it to be an all-out screaming and yelling match," Phoebus said.

The next delegation meeting is Wednesday.

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