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The stadium issue: Next steps to take

August 30, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Hagerstowns Suns' owner Andy Rayburn has wisely decided not to seek a final decision this year on the issue of whether or not there'll be a new stadium in Hagerstown. There are too many unknowns now to believe the project will advance until they're resolved.

The most immediate is the Major League Baseball labor negotiations. Today's the strike deadline announced by the players' association, and if owners and players follow through with what could be institutional suicide, there won't be much future for minor league teams.

Then there's the fund-raising issue. In March of 2000, Richard Phoebus, then chairman of the stadium task force, said that group could raise between $3 million and $5 million through creation of a charitable remainder trust.

Phoebus said then that even if the project were cancelled, any cash raised could be applied to another project, like the City of Hagerstown's Arts & Entertainment District. If that's so, then let's get started, because all along the project has been hampered by taxpayers' suspicion that they're going to get stuck with the entire bill.

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And at some point, Rayburn will have to say what he's personally willing to kick in. This past February, The Herald-Mail reported that after turning Flexalloy, Inc., from a $20 million business into an industry leader worth $230 million, Rayburn was the victim of an alleged scam in which $70 million was stolen from his account. Sooner or later, Rayburn needs to say how much of whatever's left he can commit.

Finally, those members of the business community who say that baseball is an amenity, like the Maryland Symphony, that draws people and businesses here, need to buy some tickets.

Giving people a free ticket to see what they're missing may lead to some repeat business, nor would it a bad idea to have local compnaies donate some tickets for Little League teams or senior citizens groups. Baseball can be successful here, if all the people who say it's a good idea back up their words with action.

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