Study on economic benefits of new or renovated baseball stadium being considered

January 27, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS |

The city of Hagerstown and Washington County are considering commissioning a study on the economic benefits of a new or renovated baseball stadium in Hagerstown, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II confirmed Friday.

“This process that we’re going through, and this economic impact study that we should be able to get created for like $20,000, will be able to tell us the feasibility of either renovation at the current site or a new stadium located somewhere else within the city,” Bruchey said.

Meanwhile, the city has asked the Greater Hagerstown Committee to research downtown sites that could be suggested for a new building for Washington County Public Schools’ central offices, Bruchey said.

The idea is that the findings, if not used by the school system, could be used by economic development officials to recruit a comparably sized business, he said.

Both topics were discussed Tuesday during a closed session between the Hagerstown City Council and the Washington County Board of Commissioners, he said.

At that meeting, the council and commissioners agreed to find out what a stadium study would cost, with the idea of potentially splitting the cost of the study, Bruchey said.

A potential study cost of $50,000 was discussed, but actual costs are likely to be closer to $20,000, Bruchey said.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, or CHIEF, was tasked with finding out what a study would cost, Bruchey said.

Both boards would have to vote in open session to authorize the study. Bruchey said he hopes enough information will be available for those votes to happen on Tuesday.

The closed-session discussion came the day after the Winchester (Va.) Economic Development Authority announced it was interested in building a $15 million baseball stadium to attract a minor-league baseball team.

Bruchey has said Bruce Quinn, majority owner of the Hagerstown Suns, has told him he is considering moving the team to Winchester.

“We’re looking at different options, given the fact that Winchester will build a new stadium, which is always very tantalizing to baseball owners,” Bruchey said.

If approved, a stadium study would be completed “very quickly, probably within a three-week time frame, because we already know sufficient data exists that can tell us what we need to know,” Bruchey said.

The Hagerstown City Council pledged in December to contribute $140,000 a year in hotel-motel tax revenue and other non-general fund sources toward a stadium project, but that contribution alone is not enough to fund the project.

A stadium makeover concept commissioned by Suns’ owners had a price tag of $9 to $10 million, with funding from the city, county and Suns, minority owner Tony Dahbura has said.

The county commissioners have said they want to see data on a stadium project’s projected economic impact to gauge the likely return on their investment before committing a hotel-motel tax contribution from the county.

Economic impact

A 1998 study showed the Hagerstown Suns generate close to $3 million a year in direct and indirect impact, such as spending at local restaurants and hotels and payroll for stadium employees.

Bruchey said his interest was not just in what extra economic impact a renovated stadium would have, but in what existing impact would be lost if the Suns left.

 “I can’t stress enough the importance of retaining every job, every opportunity, that we can, and letting it slip away from us without putting up the good fight and being able to answer all the questions is very unconscionable of any elected official in the city of Hagerstown, Washington County, or the state of Maryland,” he said.

The Winchester Economic Development Authority has released copies of a minor league ballpark market and financial analysis conducted by the Washington, D.C. firm of Brailsford & Dunalvey. The Winchester Star has reported the EDA paid $12,124 for that study.

Should local officials decide to build a stadium at a new location in Hagerstown, Bruchey said there had been discussions about “a couple of different sites,” including one that would move it closer to the city center. He would not name the sites.

School office move?

The Greater Hagerstown Committee’s exploration of a new school system headquarters was initiated about nine months ago when the group’s executive director, James F. Kercheval, approached the city to ask what committee volunteers could do to help with downtown revitalization, Bruchey and Kercheval said.

The city suggested exploring the feasibility of bringing a major employer, such as the school system’s central offices, to downtown Hagerstown, Kercheval said.

The committee decided to use the space and parking requirements of the central offices as a starting point to explore potential sites, he said.

The Washington County Board of Education has made no promises it would move or was even considering moving the central offices downtown, Kercheval said.

“The outcome may be that it’s totally unrealistic to do that, cost-wise, for the county and the board, and all those factors,” Bruchey said.

“But the great thing about this exercise is it will give us information that we can leverage for any opportunity we come across where a corporation may need a pad site to build a new building and put 200 employees in downtown Hagerstown.”

The central offices would require 65,000 to 80,000 square feet with space for 200 to 220 employees, Kercheval said.

Task force created

The committee has created a task force to research the idea and is focusing on open-space sites and buildings that are in disrepair and could be torn down to build something “more modern,” Kercheval said.

Committee members recently toured the Herald-Mail building in Hagerstown, but Kercheval said “that’s really not been a site we continue to look at,” because the building is in good shape and the company is not actively planning to move from downtown.

Herald-Mail Publisher Andy Bruns has said the company intends to stay in its 100 Summit Ave. building unless the company receives a very attractive offer to sell the building.

According to the school system’s Educational Facilities Master Plan, the roof, electrical system, sprinklers and fire alarm system at the 820 Commonwealth Ave. administrative center are in poor condition.

School board member Justin Hartings has said the central office has about $4.7 million in deferred maintenance needs and that it would make sense to examine a new building as one option of addressing those needs.

Commissioner John F. Barr said Friday he agreed a new building might be wise.

“Those of us who have businesses minds are saying ... ‘Why wouldn’t you use that sustaining maintenance budget and add something to it and have a green, state-of-the art, more-efficient facility, and at the same boot benefit revitalization of downtown Hagerstown and have it closer to other educational facilities?’” Barr said.

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