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Mayor hoping to present proposed lease extension for Suns

March 12, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • The proposed site of a new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns is north of West Baltimore Street and east of Summit Avennue in downtown Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II is trying to negotiate a two-year lease extension for the Hagerstown Suns to continue playing at Municipal Stadium, and there’s a possibility the lease could lead to a much longer one if city officials decide to move forward with a new stadium.

Bruchey said Monday he was hoping to present City Council members Tuesday a proposed lease extension that would permit the Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, to play at Municipal Stadium through the 2014 season.

“I am working very closely with the (majority) owner of Hagerstown Baseball LLC to put together an addendum for a two-year lease extension,” Bruchey said Monday.

“We don’t have the details worked out,” he said.

Bruce Quinn, majority owner of Hagerstown Baseball LLC, emailed The Herald-Mail on Monday afternoon to say he had no comment, at that time, concerning lease negotiations with Hagerstown.

Winchester (Va.) City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to transfer about 8 acres of park land for the possible construction of a new stadium for the Suns. Hagerstown Baseball LLC, the owner of the Hagerstown Suns, signed a letter of intent in January to move the team to Winchester, but some Winchester council members say a no vote on the land transfer Tuesday could kill a move to Winchester.

Winchester’s interim city manager, Craig Gerhart, said he wouldn’t predict the vote results. Told Hagerstown was negotiating a lease extension with the Suns, Gerhart said if he had a baseball team he’d probably want to leave his options open until he had a deal.

The potential lease with Hagerstown could include a possible longer extension if certain actions toward getting a new stadium are met in a specified timeline, Hagerstown Councilwoman Ashley Haywood said. That longer extension would be similar to one Winchester officials were considering if they had a new stadium built for the Suns, she said.

Winchester officials were considering a 22-year lease, according to documents found at the city of Winchester’s website.

If Winchester council members Tuesday approve the transfer of park land to the Winchester Economic Development Authority for construction of a minor league baseball stadium and supporting facilities, that transfer would still be contingent upon getting financing and a lease, Gerhart said.

Haywood said she thinks Winchester officials are unlikely to approve moving forward with a new stadium for the Suns, given that Quinn is negotiating a lease extension for Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium with Bruchey.

Asked if he was concerned about Winchester’s vote Tuesday, Bruchey said, “I’m focused on keeping minor league baseball in Hagerstown. That’s my focus. Whatever Winchester does or does not do, I cannot control that.”

“I don’t have any details concrete that I can talk about. It’s a discussion between (Quinn) and I, and I need to have all my I’s dotted and T’s crossed,” Bruchey said.

Asked if a lease extension would contain a contingency to hammer out details for a new stadium, Bruchey said he didn’t know if lease negotiations would get that far.

At his State of the City Address on March 6, Bruchey displayed a site concept rendering of a ballpark that showed it occupying the area of The Herald-Mail Co. parking lot off Summit Avenue, the Baltimore Street Station Car Wash, the county office building on Baltimore Street and a Laundromat on Summit Avenue. The concept also included a parking deck on the north side of West Antietam Street.

Bruchey said a month ago that he was working on a lease agreement with the Suns that was similar to the lease in Winchester, but would not release details at the time.

Asked what the difference was between the earlier lease discussions and the current ones, Haywood said that, in February, the Suns wanted “greater expenditures on the part of the city.”

If Bruchey does bring a proposed lease extension to the City Council Tuesday, Haywood said she wouldn’t support the council voting on the matter that soon.

There’s “something suspicious about the sudden expediency on the part of the Suns,” Haywood said.

Haywood said she also wants the public to have more time to digest any lease proposal before the council would vote on it.

But that doesn’t mean other council members wouldn’t be ready to vote on the matter.

Councilman William Breichner said he would support a two-year lease extension with the possibility of a longer lease extension if certain conditions are met. However, he said he still had concerns Monday about some of the details the Suns were requesting in the lease. He would not elaborate on those details.

Breichner said he would support a new stadium if the financing was shared by the city, the county, the state and the Suns, but he couldn’t vote for it now because not all of the pieces were in place.

In addition to funding, many questions still need answers, Breichner said. Those questions include whether the Baltimore Street site could support construction of a new stadium and whether enough parking could be provided.

Whether the stadium is multiuse is not a deal-breaker for Breichner, he said.

Councilman Lewis Metzner said he would support a new stadium if the project received appropriate funding from the county, state and private sector.

Metzner said he would not support a $30 million project, but that a figure around $20 million that he’d seen for both the stadium and a parking deck looked feasible.

“I don’t think anybody in City Hall has any desire to renovate Municipal Stadium,” said Metzner, referring to land problems and an inability to expand the stadium.

“We’re looking at building a new stadium if we’re looking at doing something,” Metzner said.

Haywood said she would support building a new multiuse stadium downtown that the Suns could use, but it wouldn’t just be for the Suns. Haywood said she had heard cost figures from about $20 million to $24 million for the stadium and parking.

Councilman Martin Brubaker said he would support a lease extension in principal, but couldn’t say whether he would support a specific lease until he saw the terms.

If the lease can be done in a favorable way, it would keep the Suns here while providing the community time to thoroughly examine and explore a larger stadium proposal, Brubaker said.

Brubaker couldn’t say whether he would support a new stadium because it would depend on the terms, such as who is paying for it and how much it would cost.

Councilman Forrest Easton did not return messages left for him Monday.

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