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Candidates offer views on stadium

February 26, 2001

Candidates offer views on stadium



By DAN KULIN / Staff Writer


The new owner of the Hagerstown Suns and most of the candidates in the upcoming city election expect the next group of council members to be faced with deciding whether, and to what extent, the city should help pay for a new baseball stadium.

A majority of council candidates say they would support some city funding for a new ballpark. Supporters outnumber opponents 10 to five.

New Suns owner Andrew Rayburn said recently he "expects to come up with a new stadium plan" this year.

"I don't mean we'll be breaking ground. But we should be able to get a cost, agree on a site and agree on a construction start. I think we should be able to hack out a new agreement," Rayburn said.

"Our plan is to work out a good stadium deal ... We want to work with everyone and make a stadium happen," he said.

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Rayburn said the funding formula for a new stadium probably would include public and private funds, but he said it was too early to lay out a specific plan. Rayburn said he must fully assess the situation and meet with all those involved.

Of the 15 council candidates, five Democrats and five Republicans said they would support stadium funding. Supporters said they would want Rayburn to commit to a long-term lease for a new stadium before spending city money to build one.

Five council candidates, three Democrats and two Republicans, oppose city funding for a new ballpark. Four of the five opponents said they would support city funding for renovations to the existing Municipal Stadium.

The proponents of city funding for a new stadium say it's a "quality of life" issue. Minor league baseball gives Hagerstown residents affordable family entertainment, which makes the city a nicer place to live, supporters say, and makes Hagerstown attractive to businesses that want to relocate.

Opponents of city funding for a new ballpark say the public support isn't there to justify such a subsidy. They also say there are other matters and projects more deserving of city funds.

For years, the stadium question has hounded city and Washington County politicians, as well as the county's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

The stumbling block has always been the price tag - who will pay and how much will they pay?

Stadium supporters, recently led by a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce stadium task force, anticipated a funding formula that called for $3 million from the city, $3 million from the county, $6 million from the state, plus $3 million or more in private funds, to pay for a $15 million facility.

The local delegation pushed through an increase to the county hotel-motel tax last year at the request of county officials and some of those funds were expected to go toward a new stadium.

A final agreement was never struck, and in November the stadium task force decided its latest proposal had become too expensive and dropped the plan.

In January, then-Suns owner Winston Blenckstone followed through on his long-standing threat to sell the team unless a new stadium was built.

Blenckstone sold the team to Rayburn, a Cleveland area businessman who also owns the Daytona (Fla.) Cubs, a Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

The Suns, a Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, are committed to playing at the city-owned Municipal Stadium for the upcoming season, but some fear Rayburn eventually plans to move the team from Hagerstown.

Rayburn won't commit to a longer stay in Hagerstown, but said, "We haven't put any thought into leaving."

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