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Suns manager says referendum would prompt team sale

June 08, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Hagerstown Suns General Manager David Blenckstone said Thursday that the team will be sold if the issue of public funding for a proposed $15 million stadium complex is taken to referendum.

cont. from front page

Blaming Hagerstown City Councilman J. Wallace McClure for making a referendum a possibility, Blenckstone said if the Suns move from Hagerstown "it's going to be because of Councilman McClure."

McClure has pledged to petition the matter to referendum if Hagerstown City Council votes to borrow millions to help fund stadium construction.

McClure said Thursday that he wouldn't be swayed by "threats" from the Suns.

"There's going to be two things that will be said about me: That we lost professional baseball because of Wally McClure. The other side is going to say we saved millions of dollars in bonded debt because of Wally McClure. ... I can live with it," McClure said.

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Under current plans, the city and Washington County governments would put $3 million each toward construction of the proposed Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex. Supporters are hoping to get at least $6 million from the state and another $3 million from the private sector to fund construction.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, who supports the stadium, also supports a referendum, saying putting the matter before the voters would prove there is support for a new stadium.

Bruchey said he is investigating whether the matter can be placed on the November ballot.

The Suns have to "open their eyes to the reality that it's going to happen," Bruchey said.

David Blenckstone, whose father Winston Blenckstone owns the team, said a referendum, either in November or next year, "is not something we're interested in.

"It's the waiting we find objectionable. We're not willing to wait for a referendum. ... We're not scared a referendum would fail. It's just the time frame," he said.

Blenckstone said votes last month by the City Council and County Commissioners appeared to finalize the local funding plan. But with the threat of a referendum, "in reality there is no commitment for local funding," he said.

He said the threat of a referendum has put private fund-raising efforts on hold.

Blenckstone said if there is going to be a referendum, "it should have been done a long time ago. Not after all the work is done.

"You do the referendum first and then ask for the money and then have people do all the work," he said.

Blenckstone said he hoped McClure would change his mind on the matter, and said he hoped McClure would meet with Suns officials before the end of next week.

McClure said he would meet with the Blenckstones, but said he wouldn't change his mind.

McClure has pledged to petition the matter to referendum if the council votes to go for the bonds that would be used to finance a portion of stadium construction. Under the City Charter, only ordinances can be petitioned to referendum. Decisions on bonds are typically done by ordinance.

A successful referendum petition requires signatures from at least 20 percent of city voters, which would be about 3,400 signatures.

Bruchey said the city probably won't issue bonds until April 2001, at the earliest.

So far, the City Council has made a nonbinding pledge to spend $250,000 a year to support stadium construction. Under the current plan, that money would be combined with $250,000 a year for 20 years from the Washington County government to pay off a total of $6 million in bonds. The payments, including interest, would cost the city and county $5 million each over 20 years.

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