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Stadium change may be tough sell

October 14, 2000

Stadium change may be tough sell



By DAN KULIN / Staff Writer


When supporters of a new baseball stadium meet with Hagerstown and Washington County elected officials Tuesday, they will recommend a location once dismissed for problems related to flooding, parking, accessibility and visibility: The city's Municipal Stadium.

Some elected officials are already asking: What's changed?

The problems that prompted calls for a new stadium in a new location haven't changed. And stadium supporters still say a new ballpark along the interstate highway would be a better draw.

What has changed is the projected cost.

The choice came down to a $23 million to $25 million stadium at a new site or a $15 million stadium at the current location.

Stadium supporters doubt there is political or financial backing for the more expensive option. So the members of a task force studying the idea threw their support behind a $15 million plan to demolish Municipal Stadium and rebuild on the property.

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Supporters say the plan will fix most of the problems with the stadium site near the Eastern Boulevard intersections with Cannon Avenue and Memorial Boulevard.

"There are locations or sites that would be better ... but considering the constraints we were under, the economics, we've chosen this as the best option at this point," said City Councilman Alfred W. Boyer, a member of the stadium task force.

"We felt we could improve on the problem areas enough it didn't justify going someplace else for another $10 million," said Jeffrey Yingling, a task force member who had previously criticized the location of Municipal Stadium.

"We're going to build a new facility at the existing site and fix the things that caused us to look at a new site to begin with," said task force Chairman Richard Phoebus.

A new site would leave behind the small parking lot and occasional flooding at Municipal Stadium. The stadium sits near the intersections of Town and Marsh runs, two storm water collector streams that empty into nearby Antietam Creek.

The $15 million plan includes money to add parking at the existing site, in part by replacing adjacent basketball and tennis courts with parking spaces, Phoebus said.

The plan also includes $1.5 million to $1.7 million to redirect Town Run so it doesn't merge with Marsh Run, Phoebus said.

Supporters and some opponents of pervious stadium plans now say access and visibility are not significant problems with Municipal Stadium, when compared to the flooding and parking issues.

Hagerstown Suns owner Winston Blenckstone said statements opposing additional spending at Municipal Stadium were made because of the flooding problem.

But remaining at the present location lessens attendance projections, Blenckstone said.

A new stadium built along the interstate could double attendance at Suns' games, Blenckstone said. A new stadium at the existing site would probably increase attendance by about 50 percent.

Attendance was about 102,500 last season.

The Suns, a Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, are the primary tenant of Municipal Stadium and for the proposed new stadium.

Boyer said recent road improvements and increasing the number of signs directing people to the stadium would improve access and visibility.

Blenckstone and other stadium supporters had planned and hoped for a new ballpark just off Interstate 81 that would be easily seen by drivers coming from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

But Blenckstone said even with the lower attendance projections, a new stadium at the existing site would help the club.

Blenckstone and the task force must persuade majorities of the City Council and County Commissioners to back the new plan in order to get funding.

When it was expected that a stadium would be built at a new site, both political bodies conditionally pledged up to $3 million. They also paid $310,000 toward the study that produced the latest cost estimates.

With the recommendation to remain at the existing site, some elected officials are questioning whether they will continue to support the project.

"There was a reason why they were looking at other sites, and those reasons have not gone away. It looks like they're trying to put a round peg in a square hole," said County Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger, who has supported past stadium plans.

"It's going to be a tough sell for me," Iseminger said.

Commissioner John L. Schnebly, who also supported past stadium plans, said: "I have grave doubts whether we should make that kind of investment in the current site. It might just be too expensive to do the project."

If Schnebly or Iseminger decides not to support the latest plan, there would be a majority of commissioners opposed to it.

City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, also a supporter of past stadium plans, asked, "We were we repeatedly told why the stadium location wouldn't work? Why can it work there when we were told it couldn't before?"

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