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Stadium backers needto raise private money

June 25, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

In April Hagerstown Suns owner Andrew Rayburn said he was not involved with discussions with other cities about a possible move. Two months later, those talks have begun, according to County Commissioner Paul Swartz. If this is a public-relations ploy designed to push local officials to act, it's the wrong strategy.

Swartz, who supports a new stadium, said he believes if there's no plan for a new stadium by the start of next season, the Suns will move. In April, Hagerstown Mayor Bill Breichner said that Rayburn's prediction of a 2003 ground-breaking was optimistic, given the difficulty of developing a plan.

However, the tough task is creating a plan, but getting a fund-raising effort in gear. Two years ago Richard Phoebus, chairman of the Stadium Complex Planning Committee for the Hagerstown/Washington County Chamber of Commerce, proposed raising between $3 million and $5 million by creating something called a Charitable Remainder Trust.

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Phoebus said then that if the stadium project didn't pan out, the proceeds of the trust could be used for other projects, like the Arts & Entertainment District in downtown Hagerstown, for example. Despite that, the trust still hasn't been used as a fund-raising tool.

Phoebus said back then that without a substantial contribution from the private sector, the stadium wouldn't be built. We'll taken that one step further: Without some money raised or pledged by the private sector up front, this project won't succeed.

If proponents want a new stadium, they'll start fund-raising in the private sector now, to overcome the feeling of many taxpayers that they're going to get stuck with the entire bill.

Without private money as a show of good faith, any politician who embraces the stadium project in an election year is risking political suicide. And as for public relations, instead of suggesting that without a new stadium the Suns will leave, Rayburn needs to say how much he'll contribute if there's a plan for them to stay.

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