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City Council, mayor meet with Suns' owner

January 09, 2001

City Council, mayor meet with Suns' owner



By DAN KULIN and SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writers


Some Hagerstown and Washington County elected officials have told the new owner of the Hagerstown Suns that they will continue to push for a new baseball stadium.

They said they see a new stadium, or major renovations to the existing ballpark, as the only way to keep minor league baseball in Hagerstown for years to come.

The new Suns owner, Andrew K. Rayburn, hasn't asked for a new stadium, and has refused to say whether he'll keep the Suns in Hagerstown after the 2001 season.

In the past, Hagerstown's mayor and a majority of City Council members have consistently supported proposals for a new stadium.

During a private Monday meeting with Rayburn, the mayor and council "discussed council support for prior stadium plans," and "indicated our support for a new stadium," said Councilman William M. Breichner.

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"We told him we support a new stadium," Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said Tuesday.

Washington County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said he has told Rayburn he will continue to support a new stadium. Swartz also pledged to deliver crucial votes by Commissioners Bert L. Iseminger and John Schnebly, provided there is enough private support for any new stadium plan.

That support would have to include increased game attendance and financial pledges to a new stadium, said Schnebly.

"Show me the money," Schnebly said. One reason he and Iseminger had trouble supporting the project before was the lack of financial support from nongovernment sources.

"Now it's up to the community whether minor league baseball stays here," Iseminger said. "I think it's in the hands of the community."

Schnebly and Iseminger want the owner to sign a long-term lease, but Rayburn has not committed to staying in Hagerstown for more than one year.

Rayburn repeated Tuesday that he was unwilling to promise a long-term commitment, saying it is too early to answer such questions.

Rayburn said it is possible he would contribute money for a new stadium, but he has not decided the amount. Former owner Winston Blenckstone had committed $500,000 to new stadium skyboxes.

Rayburn, 45, owner of Big Game Capital, which is based near Cleveland, was introduced Monday as the new Suns owner. He also owns the Daytona Cubs, a Class A-team in the Florida State League.

Rayburn purchased 100 percent of the Suns through an asset purchase agreement signed Dec. 29, 2000. As part of the agreement the amount of the sale was confidential.

He has said he would keep the current Suns staff for one year but doesn't know what he will do after that.

Swartz said that during a Monday conversation with the owner, he told Rayburn about his suggestion that money from hotel-tax hike proceeds be placed into an escrow account for up to three years. That would give supporters time to revive the stadium proposal.

Placing the money in escrow would show Rayburn that the county is committed to the project, said Swartz, the county's representative on a stadium task force.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said it may be premature to ask what a new owner will do for the effort to build a new stadium.

"The jury is still out," Snook said.

Commissioner William J. Wivell, who opposes using tax money to fund of a new stadium, said the ownership change won't affect his opinion.

City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said although Rayburn hasn't talked about plans for the Suns after this season, Metzner believes this could be the last season for minor league baseball in Hagerstown.

"We have a year for the government entities to do something other than talk," Metzner said.

The Suns, a Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, play at the city-owned Municipal Stadium.

The most recent plan from supporters of a new stadium called for demolishing most of Municipal Stadium and replacing it with a new facility. That plan was dropped after cost estimates climbed above $15 million.

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