City officials are considering at least two sites — including one in downtown Hagerstown — to build a new minor league baseball stadium in an effort to prevent the Hagerstown Suns from moving to Virginia.
City Councilman William Breichner said Friday that officials have been discussing a possible new stadium site in the area of the Baltimore Street Station Car Wash and The Herald-Mail parking lot off Summit Avenue.
He said another site being considered was an open field near Interstate 81 north of Salem Avenue.
Breichner named the possible stadium sites while responding to questions about a letter of intent that Suns officials signed Jan. 19 with Winchester, Va., to move the team there.
Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he was aware that the owners of the Suns had signed the letter of intent.
Despite the letter, Bruchey said he has been talking with Suns owner Bruce Quinn about keeping the ball club in Hagerstown.
He said city officials are trying to develop a plan to build a multiuse facility at an unspecified location. He would not confirm the sites named by Breichner.
“I’ll say something very soon,” Bruchey said when asked about the proposed stadium site. “I would love it if the Suns could play in there. That’s the bottom line.”
Bruchey said there might be some “legal ramifications” should the Suns’ owners fail to honor the letter of intent.
“In the eyes of the court, it could be binding,” he said. “There are just consequences associated with it.”
According to the letter of intent, the Suns will be required to enter into a lease agreement with Winchester if city officials there and the Winchester Economic Development Authority complete three objectives by April 17.
According to the letter, those objectives are the formal approval and execution of the lease agreement by the WEDA; transfer of ownership of the property for the stadium’s construction from the city of Winchester to the WEDA; and approval of funding for the project by the city of Winchester.
The letter of intent reads that if those conditions are met, and the Suns fail to execute the lease agreement or relocate to Winchester, the ball club’s owners “will reimburse all expenses incurred by the city of Winchester and the (Winchester Economic Development Authority) in furtherance of this project, including but not limited to the Brailsford & Dunlavy feasibility study and the HKS initial architect contracts to a maximum of $75,000.”
City fights move
Breichner said he hadn’t known about the letter of intent, but he assumed the Suns and Winchester city officials had taken serious steps toward reaching an agreement to move the team.
“I don’t think Winchester would have gone as far as they have with just a handshake or a nod,” Breichner said. “They had to have some kind of commitment.”
Breichner said the city council wants to keep the Suns in Hagerstown. In addition to considering construction of a new stadium, city officials are considering whether to make further improvements to Municipal Stadium, he said.
Talking about moving the team is one thing, but Winchester has an uphill climb before the Suns actually relocate, Breichner said.
“A commitment to move to Winchester doesn’t mean Winchester will eventually support it,” he said. “A new stadium is a lot of money .... Winchester will have a significant financial burden if it goes forward.”
According to published reports, a new baseball stadium in Winchester would cost $15 million.
Hagerstown Councilman Forrest Easton said he had assumed the Suns and Winchester would sign a letter of intent. He said city officials have been the only ones engaged in trying to ensure that the Suns stay put.
“I don’t see any other groups at the table,” such as the Washington County Board of Commissioners or the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Easton said.
Quinn did not return a phone call seeking comment.
‘It’s not over’
Hagerstown resident and Suns minority owner Tony Dahbura said Friday that he didn’t sign the letter of intent.
He said he has recused himself from discussions to move the Suns to Winchester because he is committed to keeping the team in Hagerstown.
“No one will be more heartbroken than me if the team leaves town,” Dahbura said.
He confirmed that officials have been talking about building a new stadium in the core of Hagerstown but declined to pinpoint a location.
“It could be the shot in the arm the city needs,” said Dahbura, referring to the city’s attempt to revitalize the urban core at a time when numerous businesses have closed or left downtown.
Dahbura praised Bruchey’s and the city council’s efforts to prevent the move.
“It’s not over,” he said. “I think we need to act as a community (to keep the Suns). I think we need to act with certainty.”
Dahbura said the Suns’ ownership has invested about $800,000 in Municipal Stadium over the last 18 months to make the venue more friendly to fans and players.
Some of those improvements included upgrades to the field, stands and scoreboard, he said.
“We’ve been trying to do everything we can to create the best fan experience,” Dahbura said. “I’m optimistic we’ll be able to stay here.”
As to Hagerstown getting a new team if the Suns leave, minor league baseball rules prevent a new team from playing in a ballpark if it is within 50 miles of a an existing franchise’s stadium.
But exceptions may be made if the affected ball club and minor league officials agree.
“We would consider any relocation request if one was presented to us,” minor league spokesman Steve Densa said in an email.
Jim Barnett Park in Winchester, where the new ballpark would be located, is just over 45 miles from Municipal Stadium, according to the online locator MapQuest. The Frederick Keys, who play in Harry Grove Stadium, is about 25 miles from Hagerstown.