Council delays 'Bonanza' decision

September 22, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday requested more details before it would decide whether to allow the local firefighters union to hold a fund-raiser next year that would raise money through gambling, alcohol sales, and raffling off firearms and vehicles.

In response to repeated requests from the firefighters' top organizer that the council act quickly, the council scheduled a meeting for next week to make a decision on whether to continue planning the event, and if so, what the city would provide to the firefighters for the event.

"We want to put the money back into the City of Hagerstown," firefighters organizer Rick Conrad told the City Council. Later, he said, "This is going to bring many, many people."


Event organizers from the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1605 in mid-August presented plans to the City Council for a fund-raiser dubbed the "Bonanza Extravaganza" at Fairgrounds Park. The plan came under heavy questioning from the mayor and council.

The event would be held Sept. 16 to 18, 2005. Admission would be $100 per person, and people would be allowed to camp at the park. The organizers expect that up to 10,000 people would attend throughout the weekend.

As part of the fund-raiser, attendees would be allowed to gamble inside the park, and those old enough could drink alcohol. Organizers would raffle off dozens of items, including cars, motorcycles, campers, all-terrain vehicles, shotguns and rifles. There would be no pistols, Conrad said.

Event organizers have met with city officials, but a contract has yet to be developed.

The most-debated topic at Tuesday's meeting was how much money the city would pay to hold the event.

Conrad said he hoped the city would pay for roughly $28,000 in expenses for electricity, police protection and park services.

While the city has asked the firefighters to cover the amount, Conrad said the city often covers those expenses at other events, including Western Maryland Blues Fest and Augustoberfest.

Conrad also asked the city to speed up plans to upgrade a building at the fairgrounds. A room the firefighters would like to use can hold only about 300 people due to current fire safety standards; after the upgrades, the room could hold about 900, Conrad said.

Those upgrades would cost $40,000 to $80,000, said City Parks and Recreation Department Manager John Budesky. That money also would be more than the city budgeted for spending this year because, while the work is planned, it wasn't to take place for another four years.

City officials also expressed concern that there be plans in place to repair the park quickly should any damage occur there as part of the event.

It is also not clear, City Water and Sewer Department Manager David Shindle said, whether the water pipes leading to the park can handle the capacity needed for the event. If not, new pipes would need to be installed.

Council members said they likely would agree to bring the event to the city, but first they must settle the costs and agree on insurance, alcohol consumption, parking and whether firearms would be on the premises, on display or under police guard.

Mayor William M. Breichner said he hoped the council would address one key question: "Is this something we really want to do in Fairgrounds Park?"

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