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Innovative funding might help build a new ballpark

June 03, 2005

In March, when a group called the Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership announced its intention to redevelop the city's East End, we urged citizens to give the plan a fair hearing.

Now that we're getting more details about a part of that plan, we again urge local citizens to keep an open mind about the latest proposal for a new minor league baseball stadium.

Rich Neumann, vice president of development for Mandalay Sports Entertainment, which owns the Hagerstown Suns, on Wednesday revealed details of his firm's plans for a stadium.

Neumann said a new East End stadium might cost $25 million to $35 million and have 5,500 to 6,500 seats as opposed to the 4,600 in Municipal Stadium.

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Mandalay would put in $3 million to $5 million as its share.

Where would the the other dollars come from?

The city and the state could create something called a tax increment financing district, also known as a TIF.

Using a TIF, all or a portion of the increased tax revenue that results from the redevelopment of the East End would be used as the local share of the project.

If this seems confusing, think of the East End redevelopment as a new room being added on to your house. Instead of the increase in property tax due to that room going to the local government's general fund, it would go to the TIF fund instead.

Such a tax break was used for the Centre at Hagerstown project in 2000. The developers of that project were given a portion of the tax revenue from that development for 21 years in exchange for extending roads, water and sewer service to the property.

Under the agreement, the city received the base tax, or the amount of taxes that would have been paid if the property hadn't been developed.

The city also receives 10 percent of the increase in the tax revenue due because the Centre project was built.

Many of the details of the East End project have not yet been worked out. But in concept, at least, it seems that there is a possibility that a new stadium could be built without a large impact on local taxpayers.

Other questions remain, however. Previous efforts to put together a stadium project emphasized the need to put it near Interstate 70 or Interstate 81, for visibility and to make it easier for fans to get there.

The current plan would put a new stadium in an area served mostly by two-lane roads, some of which need a lot of work.

Just as we've urged citizens to do, we'll keep an open mind, but we reserve the right to ask questions as this plan develops.

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