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Ballpark choice is due

March 30, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Leaders of the effort to build a new baseball stadium in Hagerstown said Wednesday they expect to select a stadium site by the end of next week.

Dick Phoebus, chairman of a private stadium task force, and fellow task force members Washington County Commissioner Paul Swartz and Hagerstown City Councilman Al Boyer, said the sites being considered are along Interstate 81, Interstate 70 and Wesel Boulevard.

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The Wesel Boulevard site would be close to the intersection with Burhans Boulevard. It has been referred to as the preferred site but is now being called one of several preferred sites. The stadium supporters refused to say what land along the interstates is being considered for the proposed $12 million to $15 million stadium and railroad museum.

"I wish I could be more specific, but I'm concerned information could impact negotiations for a site," Boyer said.

Boyer said the group expects by next Friday to be able to announce a tentative purchase agreement for a site along with price ranges for the property.

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Phoebus, chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce stadium task force, said he hopes city and county elected officials will agree to a final funding plan before April 7.

Hagerstown Suns owner Winston Blenckstone, whose team would be the primary tenant of a new stadium, has said if there is no funding plan by April 7, he will try to sell the team.

There has to be a "meeting of the minds" on the part of the city and county, Phoebus said.

The city and county are expected to contribute about $120,000 a year each toward the project. But the exact amounts of their contributions have not been finalized.

They need an "agreement on how much and how they'll do it," Phoebus said.

A complete funding plan also would include a state contribution, and it was unknown Wednesday when a decision might be made on state funding for the project.

Swartz and Phoebus said they expect the State Senate to vote on a bill to increase the county hotel-motel tax by April 7. Some money from the tax increase is expected to go toward a new stadium.

Phoebus, Swartz and Boyer said they hope progress over the next eight days will convince Blenckstone to ease off his deadline for trying to sell the team.

"My interpretation is that he needs to see positive movement. ... He didn't expect all these things to happen. His was a call to action," Phoebus said.

"Once he sees progress, things being nailed down, he'll be patient," Swartz said.

Blenckstone, on Wednesday, said he is "encouraged" by the work being done, but declined to speculate on how he would react to any future announcement from the stadium task force.

"Obviously we've stuck around for four years," Blenckstone said. "But we need to see some direction on a financial plan."

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