Winchester, Va. might be trying to lure Suns from Hagerstown

Winchester Economic Development Authority hires firm for 'minor league ballpark market analysis and financial analysis'

December 29, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |

Rumors that Winchester, Va., is trying to lure the Suns minor league baseball team out of Hagerstown might not be off base.

The facility planning company Brailsford & Dunlavey lists on its online portfolio that it was hired by the Winchester Economic Development Authority for a "minor league ballpark market analysis and financial analysis."

And The Winchester Star has reported that Winchester City Council members met with two men and a woman for about an hour during an executive session on Dec. 20.

"One of the men strongly resembled Bill Farley, general manager of the Suns," The Star reported.

Neither Farley nor Suns owner Bruce Quinn responded to calls and emails seeking comment, and minority owner Tony Dahbura said he could not comment on whether Suns officials had met with the Winchester City Council.

Quinn and his sister, Sheri Quinn, own the team along with Dahbura and Mitesh Kothari. The city of Hagerstown owns Municipal Stadium and leases it to the Suns.

Dahbura has said the Suns have an active offer to move the team to another city. Earlier this month, he pleaded with the Washington County Board of Commissioners to commit to helping fund a renovation of Municipal Stadium, warning that, otherwise, the Suns could leave Hagerstown in as little as 18 months.

The commissioners took no action on the request. Several of the commissioners have said they would need to study a formal proposal before committing funding to a stadium renovation.

Winchester Mayor Elizabeth Minor and Jim Deskins, director of economic development, have both said previously they could not comment on Winchester's rumored interest in the Suns. Neither returned phone calls seeking comment for this story.

The Winchester Star reported that financial documents show the Winchester EDA paid Brailsford and Dunlavey $12,124 in November.

"Through the use of a facility planning firm such as Brailsford and Dunlavey, Winchester is taking an analytical approach to determine if a team is feasible," Washington County spokeswoman Sarah Lankford Sprecher said in an emailed statement. "The County will need to see similar information the City of Hagerstown may have available to further our discussion."

'A community asset'

The Hagerstown City Council pledged Dec. 13 that the city would provide $140,000 a year toward a stadium renovation project.

Dahbura said the owners had a concept for a stadium renovation that would cost $9 million to $10 million, paid through contributions of $140,000 a year from the city, $200,000 a year from the county, and $200,000 to $230,000 a year from the Suns.

The county's contribution and much of the city's contribution would come from hotel-motel tax funds, he said.

In addition to their pledge toward a stadium makeover project in future years, the city council has also approved an additional $50,000 above its normal budget for stadium improvements.

"I can only say that until I hear some kind of a final plan out of Winchester, we're going to keep moving forward on our plans to try to garner support that we need on all levels to make Municipal Stadium into a shining star in minor league baseball," Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey said Wednesday.

Bruchey noted that studies like the one Winchester has apparently commissioned often take six months or more.

"We're still looking at this coming season. We have to make sure the ballpark is ready for opening day," he said.

Dahbura said he would encourage city and county officials to upgrade the stadium, Suns or no Suns.

"No matter what happens, we believe that Municipal Stadium requires improvements so that it can be used not only for professional baseball, but for all the other events that would be good for the community as a multiuse facility," he said. "So we feel that it's really important to secure the funding to improve this community asset."

Economic impact

Asked about the impact the Suns' departure would have on economic development, Timothy R. Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, also spoke of the stadium as an asset.

"Having baseball in our community helps bring national media exposure to the area — especially with big names like Bryce Harper," Troxell said, referring to a top Washington Nationals prospect who played in Hagerstown this summer.

"From an economic development perspective, it fills hotels rooms, creates full- and part-time jobs, and creates additional spinoff spending, like at retail and restaurant establishments. This helps to contribute to our tax base and adds to the healthy and positive quality of life found in Washington County."

"The Hagerstown Suns and professional baseball are one of the elements that makes our community unique from others," Troxell said. "Attributes like this can sometimes be important in business location decisions."

Bruchey said he did not want to consider "what ifs" regarding the Suns leaving town.

"What if (Winchester's study) comes back that (building a new ballpark there) is not feasible?" he asked. "When all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, and Bruce Quinn decides he's going to sign a long-term lease with the city (of Hagerstown), things are going to come together. We need to be ready for that."

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