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editorial - daily mail - 11/29/00

November 29, 2000

Only a major rescue effort can save minor league ball



David Blenckstone, general manager of the Hagerstown Suns baseball team, calls reports that the project to build a new stadium is dead "a setback." That's true, in the sense that the appearance of that darned iceberg was a "setback" for the Titanic. It will take a miracle - like the arrival of a $5 million donation, for example - to revive this project now.

The Blenckstones moved the team here from Myrtle Beach, S.C. under a lease agreement with a clause that allowed them to leave early if attendance didn't hit agreed-upon targets.

That didn't happen, despite renovations to Municipal Stadium. Even so, the team has agreed to a series of one-year rental agreements as local elected officials tried to find a way to find a way to do the project in the face of major public opposition. But they were never able to convince many taxpayers that despite passage of a hotel-motel tax increase, ordinary citizens wouldn't get stuck with the bill for the new facility.

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In retrospect, the best plan was the proposal to let the new stadium share a site with a business park, so that the county government could put in roads, utilities and parking without being vulnerable to the charge that the work was being done only for the benefit of the Suns.

But the 68-acre site, on Salem Avenue along Interstate 81, was too costly, according to a 1999 analysis by Merle Elliott, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, Inc. An October offer by developer Vincent Groh to swap that site, one-for-one, for the Municipal Stadium property was rejected as coming too late in the process.

So what's left? Perhaps a rescue effort could be mounted, but with the city elections coming up, we don't see it being led by the mayor and council. Unless someone else - or some organization - comes forward, minor league baseball is in danger of becoming nothing more than a memory here. For the fans - present and future - that's a sad prospect indeed.

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