Stadium backers pick site

May 02, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Stadium supporters said Tuesday they have selected a site behind the Centre at Hagerstown for a proposed baseball stadium.

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Also Tuesday, two pieces of a $15 million stadium funding plan were approved by the Hagerstown City Council and endorsed by a majority of Washington County Commissioners.

In two 4-1 votes, the City Council approved contributing $120,000 for additional stadium studies, and committed to spend, in the future, $250,000 a year for 20 to 30 years for stadium construction.

County Commissioners Paul L. Swartz, John L. Schnebly and Bert L. Iseminger said they support matching a city $250,000 annual contribution toward construction. They also support providing $190,000 in county funds for additional studies. The commissioners are expected to vote on both proposals next Tuesday.


Approval would clear the way for work on the additional studies, preconstruction engineering and architectural work, which are required under the law that raised the county hotel tax.

Richard Phoebus, chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce stadium task force, said the state will be asked for $6 million, with the private sector expected to come up with $3 million. The city and county governments are expected to contribute $3 million each.

Hagerstown Suns owner Winston Blenckstone is expected to pay for luxury skyboxes, which may cost another $400,000.

The Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, are expected to be the primary tenant of a new stadium.

City and county funding for stadium construction is contingent upon state and private contributions.

"The ultimate trigger is the ability of the stadium committee to raise the necessary private funds," Schnebly said.

Phoebus announced the preferred stadium site, and presented an outline for funding additional studies and construction of a $15 million stadium complex, during a Tuesday afternoon joint meeting of the Hagerstown City Council and the Washington County Commissioners.

"I'm pleased but we don't have the votes in hand at this point," Phoebus said after the meeting.

During that meeting, Blenckstone stood and said, "I am extremely gratified by what I hear today."

During a separate City Council meeting Tuesday night, Councilman J. Wallace McClure cast the lone vote against providing $120,000 for additional stadium studies.

The city contribution is expected to be combined with $190,000 from the county and $35,000 in private contributions, to pay for architectural and engineering work that would be overseen by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

During the afternoon meeting, Phoebus said Blenckstone has contributed $30,000, and seven other private donations of $1,000 were in hand. Phoebus said three other individuals have pledged $1,000.

Phoebus said if the commissioners approve spending the $190,000, the additional studies probably would be done by early November.

McClure also cast the lone vote against pledging $250,000 a year for stadium construction.

It is unclear when that money would actually be needed. Phoebus said it could be a year to 18 months before the bonds are needed. The $250,000 contributions from the city and county would be used to pay off the bonds.

County funding is expected to come from some of the money left over from an increase to the county hotel tax.

Additional City Council votes would be necessary to actually spend the $250,000 a year, and to go for the bonds.

Before the council votes, McClure reiterated his desire to have the stadium issue put to referendum. McClure has said he would petition to referendum a decision to go for the bonds.

"The voters need to have their say. They're the ones who are going to have to shoulder the burden," McClure said.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and several council members spoke against a referendum.

"We are elected to make these kinds of decisions," Councilman William M. Breichner said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the May 2001 city election will give city voters the chance to elect council members based on their stances on funding a new stadium, if it is a campaign issue.

The preferred site for the stadium facility, which is being called the Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex, presents a problem for plans for a railroad museum at the complex.

The site is behind the new Centre at Hagerstown, near the U.S. 40 and Interstate 81 interchange.

No rail lines go onto the property, and museum representatives had wanted railroad tracks leading to a new museum.

Phoebus said it was unclear at this time what kind of involvement the railroad museum would have at the proposed $15 million stadium complex.

Previous estimates for the complex were $12 million to $15 million.

Phoebus said the site meets the criteria for a $1 million stadium naming rights offer from Allegheny Energy, but an agreement hasn't been finalized.

Phoebus said the stadium task force is negotiating for land for soccer fields, which would be adjacent to a new stadium.

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