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North End deserves opportunity to catch up with the South

August 07, 2005|By Tim Rowland

Those with no dog in the North High stadium hunt can sit back and enjoy the fact that all this angst, political discomfort and angry words could have been completely avoided were it not for this community's penchant for siding with loud minorities.

Recall that this stadium should have been built 15 years ago, but wasn't, because a majority of North End residents and partisans were shouted down by a relative handful of complaints from the stadium's future neighbors.

Everything was ready to go. It would have been bought and paid for by now, and North High would have more than a decade of home games under its belt.

But when a couple of people begin to shout, political brains begin to melt. Things even got so loopy back in 1985 that the School Board got indignant that the paper was referring to it as a stadium, contending it was merely a harmless field with lights and bleachers and a press box.

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So because the issue wasn't addressed when it should have been addressed, here it is at our doorstep 15 years later. With hilarious results.

This week the County Commissioners did their delicious best to have it both ways - trying to appear to stadium supporters to be funding the project, while trying to appear to stadium opponents that they were drawing the line against those uppity North Enders.

So when the private boosters who are raising money for the project asked for $500,000, they instead got a commitment of $300,000.

That's not necessarily a bad decision, just a funny one. Keep in mind, this is not a matter of money. The county is about to receive a dual windfall of higher property taxes due to the new assessments, and a mother lode of new development taxes. Over time, this could conceivably boost the county budget by upwards of 20 percent. So $200,000 one way or the other is not going to be missed.

But in a county that still has a lot of resentment toward the wealthier North End, the commissioners no doubt didn't want it to look as if they were helping the rich get richer. Indeed, throughout the community, this isn't so much a stadium issue as it is a class issue. The North End has always been accused of being the privileged son, and a generous gift from the county would fuel long-standing political fires.

Look, I live on the southern outskirts of the city, so I hate the North End as much as the next guy. But the truth is, private supporters of the North High stadium have done an admirable job of fundraising for a project that, frankly, it shouldn't be up to the private sector to have to pay for. Logically, a public school stadium would be paid for by a public school system.

Knowing that the logical way is never an option in Washington County, stadium supporters did the next best thing. They organized a fund drive that to date has raised nearly $2 million of the necessary $3.5 million.

Ask any volunteer fire fighter or charitable agency how impressive that is. Not to say we're cheap, but raising $200 in this community for anything less heartstring-tugging than a three-legged deer is a pretty significant chore.

So yes, stadium supporters have clearly met the level of private investment necessary for them to ask for taxpayer help with their heads held high.

In fact, they may have formed a pretty decent model for future recreational endeavors. Had the ice rink done it this way - mustered a sizable private investment before going to City Hall hat in hand - think of the headaches that would have been prevented. And failure to drum up this private capital might have been an indicator of insufficient future demand; thus, the rink wouldn't have been built in the first place.

Any successful baseball stadium effort for the Hagerstown Suns will have to go the same route - show a private commitment first, before asking for taxpayer assistance. The community won't tolerate any 100 percent publicly funded stadium. But if the team owners themselves are willing to make a multi-million investment in our community, some public contribution will not be out of line.

North High stadium supporters now have public commitments from the City Council, the County Commissioners and state open-space programs. That's a sensible and proper formula, and the city and county should be proud of their contributions.

We in the South End have been treated to generous improvements to South High. The School Board is committed to making South-End Bester Elementary a showpiece. Prime Outlets has made the southern end of town a destination, not just for Hagerstown, but for the region. A recently announced housing development from the South End of Hagerstown to the border of Williamsport will dwarf anything seen to the north.

Commercially, the southern Friendship Technology Park seems all but assured of success as prices drive metropolitan businesses to the west. The South End has Wesel Boulevard and the mall, and the city's best movie theaters and its best supermarket.

And that's not to mention that Williamsport, to the south, has not one, but three prints of Lee crossing the Potomac.

So I say, let the North High have its stadium, and we to the south will be more than happy to pitch in a few of our tax dollars to help. I believe in the concept of equal opportunity, and it is only fair, in my opinion, that the North End be given the chance to catch up with the rest of us.

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