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Group's vision includes stadium

March 25, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Last month, Richard Phoebus told the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly that the Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership was developing a report on potential development in the city's east end.

On Thursday, Phoebus revealed the results of that report to an enthusiastic group of high-level state officials, hoping to generate support. They included representatives from half a dozen state departments.

But Phoebus emphasized that for now, the report is only a vision, and the next step is to involve city and county officials.

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The partnership's plan centers on construction of a new baseball park on publicly owned property, but is not limited to that.

Phoebus said the partnership had raised $70,000 in private funds to pay for the report, prepared by the Washington, D.C., consulting firm Brailsford & Dunlavey. The genesis for studying redevelopment of the area, which includes an area encompassing the sites of 1st Urban Fiber, Municipal Stadium, Washington County Hospital and the Venice Inn, came during discussions of a new baseball stadium in 1998.

Now, Phoebus told the group, the Hagerstown Suns are owned by an organization with the resources to develop a successful baseball program in Hagerstown.

Between discussions with Suns owners Mandalay Entertainment Group and the hospital's plans to build a new facility near the Robinwood Medical Center, Phoebus said the partnership realized there were 140 to 150 acres of underutilized properties in the area, many of which were vacant or underdeveloped public or commercial properties.

Mandalay had indicated it wanted to keep the Suns in Hagerstown but wanted a new stadium, Phoebus said.

Jason Thompson of Brailsford & Dunlavey said that several options had been considered in the redevelopment plan, ranging in cost from $29 million to $92 million, based on how many public projects would be included and where they would be built. Among the projects considered in addition to the ballpark was construction of a new convention center.

But the cost of a convention center "didn't make sense," Phoebus said, although he didn't rule out the eventual development of an exhibition hall that could be used by area hotels for convention guests.

New ballpark


After considering all the options, Thompson said the group believed the most feasible would be to pursue an option that includes building a 5,500-seat ballpark on public property, while not eliminating the other options for future consideration. The team would rent the park and be responsible for operating costs.

The plan includes development of 17.6 acres in the vicinity of the park, he said, nearly all of which is presently tax-exempt. When complete, Thompson projected the redevelopment would operate at a yearly surplus of $1.3 million.

To pay for the project, Thompson recommended using half the money the county collects from its hotel rental tax, which he calculated would generate $574,000 per year, as well as an admissions and amusement tax that would be charged at the ballpark. That tax should bring in another $77,000 per year, he said.

Mandalay had agreed to put up $3.5 million toward construction, and bonds would be considered for about $19.4 million. Another $200,000 would come from tax increment financing, calculated on the incremental growth in value of property being developed.

Phoebus said he had not yet discussed using the hotel rental tax with county officials, but noted that the tax originally had been established to pay for a new stadium during the 1998 discussions.

Keeping homes


Phoebus and Thompson emphasized that the redevelopment plan would not result in the demolition of any current residences in the neighborhood.

"We don't plan to tear down any homes," Phoebus said. "Most of it's good housing and there's no reason to tear it down."

"At all costs, we're going to avoid disrupting this neighborhood," Thompson added.

"The City Council and the County Commissioners will have to be fully engaged in the debate," Phoebus said.

Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development, said he was impressed with the plan.

"What's the holdup here?" he asked. "What do you need from the state to get started?"

Melissaratos said the partnership could apply through the Office of Smart Growth for a "Priority Place" designation, and that some money might be available for environmental cleanup of some industrial properties in the area. "Priority Place" designation would make the plan eligible for technical - and possibly financial - help from the state.

"Rebuilding cities is a key priority," Melissaratos said. "That's the core of what 'Priority Place' is all about."

Phoebus told the group that the time was right for the plan. "This may be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for this kind of land to be available," he said. "Two or three years from now, it's gonna be picked off by people in unplanned growth."

"Now we have got to interface with the City Council and the County Commissioners," he said.

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