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Downtown revitalization plans, including stadium, touted at State of the CIty event

March 06, 2012|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II describes a proposed stadium development at Summit Avenue and West Baltimore Street on Tuesday during the annual State of the City presentation.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — The construction of a minor league baseball stadium in downtown Hagerstown was cited Tuesday during the State of the City address as one of the ways officials hope to revitalize the urban core.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and members of the Hagerstown City Council also discussed plans for the site where the former Washington County Hospital was demolished, as well as incentives to recruit and retain businesses downtown.

Bruchey told about 170 people who attended the event at the Academy Theater in Hagerstown that a new stadium was needed to convince the Hagerstown Suns’ ownership to keep the Class A minor league ball club in the city.

He said the ballpark could be an “infusion” to fight the cancer that is eating away at the city’s downtown area. He suggested that the stadium be used not just for baseball, but for multiple events 240 days a year.

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“I want something downtown,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s soccer. I don’t care if it’s baseball. I don’t care if it’s pro wrestling. I don’t care if it’s cage fights. I don’t care if it’s concerts — as long as something is happening that creates excitement in our core .... You’re going to see those businesses crop up.”

The Suns’ ownership has been negotiating with officials in Winchester, Va., to move the team there.

The mayor displayed a site concept rendering of the ballpark on a screen, which showed the facility occupying the area of The Herald-Mail parking lot off Summit Avenue, the Baltimore Street Station Car Wash and the county office building on Baltimore Street. The concept also included a parking deck on the north side of West Antietam Street.

Asked later about the rendering, Bruchey said it was created by City Engineer Rodney Tissue. Tissue said he overlaid the footprints of two existing Single A Minor League ballparks — MCU Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Newbridge Bank Park in Greensboro, N.C., — on an aerial photo to demonstrate that a stadium of the size needed for Single A could fit in downtown Hagerstown.

Asked whether the Baltimore Street site was the only one still under consideration for a stadium, Bruchey said: “It’s the only one I’m willing to endorse.”

Bruchey responded to critics who have said that no one wants to come downtown because of homeless people and Section 8 housing for low-income people.

“I don’t care what great city you travel to in this nation, everybody has Section 8 housing and homeless people,” said Bruchey, noting how Oriole Park at Camden Yards helped revitalize downtown Baltimore when the stadium opened in the early 1990s.

“... If you’ve talked to anybody who’s been there in the last year, (they) will tell you that guess what they have in the (Baltimore) Inner Harbor — homeless people and people who are on Section 8.”

Councilman Martin Brubaker said after Bruchey’s presentation that the five-member council needed more information before going forward with the plan.

“The council is committed to exploring the possibility,” Brubaker said. “It’s not a done deal.”

Hospital site, downtown
During a question-and-answer session between city officials and members of the audience, Brubaker also fielded a question about plans for the site of the former Washington County Hospital, which recently was demolished.

Brubaker said hospital officials have hired a consultant to explore uses for the site.

He said the city hasn’t rezoned the land so the site would retain “maximum flexibility,” but the council would have to approve any plans that hospital officials propose.

“At this point, the ball is in the hospital’s court,” he said.

In addition, the mayor and council answered a question about ways to recruit and retain businesses downtown.

Brubaker and Councilman William Breichner said the city needs to convince prospective business owners that downtown is the place to be.

“The city has so many incentives, but people aren’t aware of it,” Brubaker said. “That’s part of the package we have to work with you.”

Councilwoman Ashley Haywood said business owners need to give city officials feedback on what works.

“That input is very, very valuable,” she said. “In the future, I would say that everything has to do with the way we project ourselves and our community, and our ability to have a cohesive approach to downtown redevelopment.”

As part of the presentation, city officials also showed a video outlining recent progress in the city, including new businesses that have opened in the past year and newly organized groups that have been formed to move the city forward.
 

Staff Writer Heather Keels contributed to this story

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