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McClure's stadium checklist: Would it guarantee success?

July 18, 2000

McClure's stadium checklist: Would it guarantee success?



One problem with the proposal to build a new stadium for minor league baseball in Hagerstown has been that many of the project's backers have been restrained in their enthusiasm. They don't want to say "no" to the idea, but saying "yes" too loudly seems to make them uncomfortable too.

Now comes Hagerstown Councilman J. Wallace McClure, until now the project's most vocal opponent, with his threat to organize an anti-stadium referendum. But after meeting with team owner Winston Blenckstone, McClure isn't sure he wants to say "no" so loudly. But instead of the fatal blow the referendum effort could be, his counter-proposal may be the the equivalent of the death of a thousand cuts.

McClure seeks five additional conditions on the deal, including incorporating demolition of Municipal Stadium into any deal, capping the city's 20-year contribution at $5 million, a guarantee that the Suns will sign a 20-year lease and stay at the stadium even if the team is sold, and that there be no major remodeling projects until the construction bonds are paid off.

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McClure also said he wants per-game attendance figures in the stadium financing plan cut back, from 3,000 per to 2,000. Richard Phoebus, chairman of the chamber of commerce's stadium task force, says that "won't work."

Demolishing Municipal Stadium would relieve the city of annual maintenance costs, and enable it to be sold for business, but would probably cost $500,000. As for the other restrictions, the only way an owner would sign a lease would be with an escape clause, which would allow the lease to be broken if the team doesn't certain attendance targets.

A team will do business here as long as it's profitable. When it stops being profitable, it will go bankrupt or go elsewhere. Success is not a certainty and no list of conditions will make it so.

The only sue thing is that if minor league baseball leaves, it won't be back. And no one who buys the Suns will keep them at Municpal Stadium, where it hasn't hit the attendance targets in its lease. It's time for the community to decide whether the area will keep this low-cost family entertainment, or lose it forever.

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