Delegates say stadium progress will depend on city, county

March 16, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly say they are doing what's necessary to keep the stadium project moving forward even though a majority aren't ready to give their full support.

"We're not standing in the way of it. It's going to really be up to the city and the county. This is and should be a local decision," Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said Wednesday.

Hagerstown Suns owner Winston Blenckstone on Tuesday set an April 7 deadline for stadium supporters to come up with a funding plan.

But the delegation's most outspoken stadium opponent said Wednesday that Blenckstone's approach isn't helping to convince the community it needs a new stadium.


"If he wants a stadium, he should have said he's willing to put up his own money instead of blackmailing the people of Washington County," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington. "He has the audacity to tell the taxpayers, 'You build it or I'll leave.'"

Winston Blenckstone could not be reached for comment. His son, David Blenckstone, who is the team's general manager, declined to comment.

Other lawmakers have said they will consider supporting a stadium, but not until stadium backers have a firm plan to build the $12 million to $15 million Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex.

They have not decided on a location and have not shown that the private sector and local governments can match a state grant, Munson said.

Local and private support needs to come before state support, which has been about 25 percent of the total in most stadium projects, lawmakers have said.

Lawmakers said they are focused on getting the legislature's approval to double Washington County's hotel-motel tax to 6 percent.

The tax increase would raise money the county could use for a stadium or other economic development project. It also would allow the county to put more money toward its $52.3 million water and sewer debt. The legislature has to approve the plan before the session ends April 10.

Lawmakers have stopped short of giving their full support of a stadium, an advantage that stadium projects in Bowie, Md., and Aberdeen, Md., have enjoyed, said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

"It has to be everybody all together," Donoghue said.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II thinks that the city and county can work something out, but conceded that on the state level it was "next to impossible" to come up with a plan before the April 7 deadline.

"It doesn't sound good, but that's my gut feeling. There's not a whole lot of support from the delegation," Bruchey said.

Staff writer Dan Kulin contributed to this story.

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