City could use sports to enhance itself

June 15, 2004|By BOB PARASILITI

I realized something the other day while getting my eyes examined.You never see anything more clearly than when it's directly in front of your face.

Hagerstown is in mid-exam right as we speak, sitting in the chair with its future staring at it right in the corneas.

This area is growing and it's inevitable. Housing developments are popping up faster than the Baltimore Orioles' batting order and businesses are moving in quicker than the new cast of "Big Brother." Location makes Washington County one of the fastest growing areas, according to one national magazine.

Hagerstown, the city? That's a different story. It continues to be one of the best places to avoid. The downtown might be mistaken for Dodge City if there were a tumbleweed near. Come nightfall, even the ghosts in town head to the suburbs.


Hagerstown needs a jolt. It needs something as a starting point to draw people back to town and something positive and constant to build on. And like it or not, that something might just be the Hagerstown Suns.

The Suns would gladly and willingly take on the job as this city's flag-bearer. After all, the players are billboards, wearing the town's name on their chest for six months of the year. And all they would ask in return is for this area to work with them and recognize them as a business that chooses to be here.

It's been that way for nearly 25 years.

Meanwhile, this rush of population seems to have caught us with our heads in the sand. Many businesses and contractors seemed to get the demographics of the situation long before we did and we are behind in cashing in on our own circumstances.

Let's consider a couple of things:

n Hagerstown is looking for something to become the lightning rod of activity to bring people downtown. For now, the new University System of Maryland at Hagerstown has been chosen to be that focal point.

n An underlying theme for the city in the hospital relocation tug-of-war is the hospital keeps people coming downtown.

n The local visitors board says tourism revenue knocks off about $170 a year in tax burdens for every adult and child living in this county.

It means that Hagerstown needs to find a way to become vital to the people who live here and interesting to the people who visit to survive.

Enter the Suns.

Believe it or not, attendance is up at Municipal Stadium this year. More people are coming to games, be it for fireworks, Thirsty Thursday or for the most novel of reasons - just to watch baseball. And most of all, it's an inexpensive entertainment draw.

That's something this area should embrace and promote.

The city should use the Suns - along with the Hagerstown Speedway, local softball tournaments and other events - to showcase local events and draw out-of-town visitors.

Use the stadium concourse, even in its limited present form, for small festivals, craft shows, job fairs and tourism information to draw people as the starting point to get them to use local shops, hotels and eateries.

If that is effective, it might prove the need for expanding the stadium or building a new one, which could enhance the city if done right. A stadium doesn't mean, "You only play baseball here."

If built correctly, it could be a spot to annually hold the Blues Fest, other shows, high school graduations and city functions as a true community center.

From there, plans for an entertainment district also will become more viable. Right now, ballgames and festivals will bring more people downtown and add diversity. Then, symphonies and the arts will keep them here or get them to come back.

"Stadium" has always been a four-letter (plus three) word in this area. Such projects are considered a silly use of tax money, especially when it comes to schools, roads and sewer issues. A lot of opinion revolves around "me" instead of "we" needs - "If it's not something I will use, I don't want any tax money going to it."

But schools, roads, sewers and stadiums are all forms of progress that help an area grow and prosper.

And to prosper, Hagerstown has to get proactive and take a few risks. Its current conservative approach has people, media and government east of South Mountain believing that the state's boundary is South Mountain.

For example, a story in The Washington Post stated there are only four minor league teams in Maryland - Frederick, Aberdeen, Bowie and Delmarva. All have new stadiums (which have been funded by state tax money) and some are asking for and receiving more funding for improvements.

And now, Charles County in Southern Maryland is accelerating plans to finance and build a 4,500-seat stadium to house a minor league baseball team. It's considered a vital quality-of-life issue in a growing area that will use private and public (state) funding to build.

Charles County is using a proactive approach, using a baseball team it doesn't have to strengthen itself. Meanwhile, the longer Hagerstown waits, the further it falls behind.

Hagerstown had better get its eyes checked when it comes to planning for its future. By the time we pull our heads out of the sand, we'll find out that a new house was built right next to where our melons were buried.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at

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