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Stadium efforts hampered, Phoebus says

June 13, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II's recent call for a referendum on city funding for a new baseball stadium has made private fund raising more difficult, the head of the private task force working on the stadium project said Tuesday.

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Richard Phoebus, chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce stadium task force, said the city may be asked to help pay to launch the private fund-raising effort.

Bruchey said last week that he supported a referendum on the proposed $15 million Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex, a combination minor league baseball stadium and railroad museum proposed by the chamber task force.

Bruchey said he was looking for a way to get the matter on the November ballot.

Bruchey previously had been critical of City Councilman J. Wallace McClure's calls for a referendum on the matter. But he said last week he believed a referendum would show there is public support for a stadium.

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The day after Bruchey's comments, Hagerstown Suns General Manager David Blenckstone said the team would be sold if the matter went to referendum.

The Suns are expected to be the primary tenants of a new stadium. Blenckstone and his father, team owner Winston Blenckstone, have said that if a new stadium isn't built the team would be sold and a new owner likely would move it to another city.

Blenckstone said it was waiting for a referendum, not the potential vote outcome, that they were opposed to.

"I think what the difference is now is (Blenckstone) thought he had the mayor's strong support behind him and (Bruchey's) support for the process," Phoebus said. "Now there's a much greater possibility for a referendum."

Last week, Blenckstone said he wasn't blaming the mayor, but McClure, for the threat of a referendum.

Phoebus said the mayor's backing of a referendum "makes fund raising more difficult but doesn't stop it."

"It certainly makes it more difficult to support something that's iffy," Phoebus said.

Bruchey declined to comment Tuesday afternoon.

Phoebus is moving ahead with fund-raising efforts, including the establishment of a charitable remainder trust. The trust works by offering contributors tax breaks and a monthly income, similar to a dividend payment, for their lifetimes.

Phoebus said he hopes to raise $3 million to $6 million through the trust. The current stadium complex funding plan calls for $3 million each from the city, Washington County, and private sector, plus $6 million from the state.

Phoebus said it could cost $50,000 to $100,000 to set up the charitable trust.

"We may be asking the city to help support that along with private funds," Phoebus said.

He said there wasn't a time frame for launching the fund-raising efforts.

"We have to regroup after the mayor's announcement," he said.

Phoebus said money raised through a charitable remainder trust could be used for projects other than a baseball stadium, should the stadium project not come to fruition.

The money could be used for cultural and recreational projects such as museums or the city's Fairgrounds Park, Phoebus said.

Phoebus had no comment on what would happen should the Blenckstones sell the team.

"I have no comment because I have no idea what that would mean," Phoebus said. "I don't know if that means selling the team to someone who will keep it locally or move it."

Last month, city and county elected officials in separate votes made conditional pledges to help pay for the stadium complex. The task force has identified land behind the Centre at Hagerstown near the U.S. 40 and Interstate 81 interchange as the preferred site for a stadium complex.

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