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East End, stadium talks come to forefront

August 08, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ
  • Fans fill the Hagerstown Municipal Stadium for opening day of the Hagerstown Suns under a threatening sky on opening day for their 30th season.
By Kelly Hahn Johnson/Staff Photographer,

A plan for a new baseball stadium and East End revitalization has shifted from private conversation to public debate.

Last week, the Hagerstown City Council discussed the idea and whether to make it a lobbying priority next year in Annapolis.

Until then, conversations about the possible project largely were private, among a group of local business interests.

Art Callaham, executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, said members of his organization have discussed the plan for about six months.

He said other business people in the community have participated in the talks, including Teri Leiter of Leiters' Fine Catering; Martin and Lata Milner, owners of the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center; and Mike Malone, Hager Hall's general manager.

Leiter, the Milners and Malone couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

Tony Dahbura, part of a group seeking to buy the Hagerstown Suns, and Bob Flannery, the Suns' general manager, also have spoken with the Greater Hagerstown Committee, Callaham said.

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"The cornerstone right now is a stadium project," Callaham said.

The city council appeared interested last week in getting behind a plan for the East End and a stadium.

Council members disagreed, however, about how specific the plan had to be before trying to make it a priority for the community lobbying coalition that includes several local governments and business groups.

The Hagerstown and Washington County governments are part of the coalition.

The Greater Hagerstown Committee, the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and other groups also are involved.

So far, the Washington County Commissioners haven't been directly part of the stadium and East End discussions.

John F. Barr, the president of the commissioners, said he attended a meeting about the idea eight or nine months ago.

Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Kristin B. Aleshire said Friday they have not been part of the talks.

Aleshire urged openness as planning progresses.

"Those discussions need to be held in a public venue," he said.

Municipal Stadium, where the Suns play, is 80 years old.

At least two other attempts in the last decade to build a new stadium have fallen flat.

A 2000 proposal included money from the city and county. At the request of local officials, the county's hotel-motel tax was doubled.

A broader plan in 2005, spearheaded by the Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership, encompassed the city's East End. It would have relied on tax increment financing, in which a special taxation district is created.

The newest incarnation of the plan would include both tax increment financing and private money, Callaham said Friday.

He said a proposal needs to come from the team or the city, or from both, and not business leaders.

"We're pretty well just waiting," he said.

Local officials and others have made it clear that the city and county don't have money to spend on the project, and it's doubtful that they would be asked.

Aleshire said he'll stay "cautious" anyway because public-private partnerships often lead to public funding.

The sale of the Suns to Dahbura's group -- likely the next milestone in an East End redevelopment proposal -- is expected to become final soon. Minor League Baseball President Pat O'Conner predicted in early July that approval would happen within about a month.

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