Stadium discussion dominates forum for mayor and city council candidates

March 14, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE |
  • Candidates for Hagerstown mayor and city council participate in a forum at City Hall Wednesday hosted by the League of Women Voters of Washington County.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Talk of a new multiuse stadium in downtown Hagerstown has been a hot-button issue for residents, and it was no different for city political candidates Wednesday night.

Fourteen of 15 candidates running for mayor or the Hagerstown City Council attended a forum at City Hall hosted by the League of Women Voters of Washington County.

Due to illness, council candidate Jonathan R. Burrs did not attend the event, which was broadcast live on Antietam Cable Television.

About 20 people also turned out to listen to the candidates, who had differing opinions on a new stadium that may be built in the area of The Herald-Mail Co. parking lot, near the intersection of West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue.

“I think everyone knows my position on that,” city Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said prior to several other candidates’ comments.

Mayoral candidate David S. Gysberts said a new stadium needs to be built, and the new site is only six blocks away from existing Municipal Stadium.

“If we build a new stadium ... it could be part of a whole redevelopment of the entire area,” Gysberts said.

Council candidate Jeffrey Coney said he considers the Hagertown Suns a positive for the area, but hopes the stadium will be a multiuse facility that could be used by the entire community. Coney said the minor league team is a major attraction and part of the city’s identity.

But Chris Kelly said he doesn’t think a new stadium should be built. The council candidate said building a new stadium would cost an “astronomical” amount of money, and it would be better placed near an interstate highway.

Council candidate Don Munson said he has talked with many residents who oppose the construction of a new stadium.

“I think that we can do only with what we can afford as a community,” he said. “I think the investment ultimately needs to pay for itself and then continue to pay for itself over the years.”

Council candidate Penny Nigh said more than just city money needs to be used to fund the project. Nigh said the Suns ownership needs to show that they are interested in staying in the city.

Candidates were also asked for two suggestions for filling empty downtown buildings, which Bruchey jumped on right away.

“One would be a multiuse facility in downtown that can be used by the Suns and other entities, because if we do not create a development catalyst that will bring in new money, new business the downtown will continue to erode,” he said.

Bruchey said a new long-term lease with the Suns could keep the team in Hagerstown for the next 32 years, and the team would pay $300,000 annually in rent that would go toward repaying the debt for a new stadium.

Currently, the Suns pay nothing to play at Municipal Stadium, he said.

A new stadium downtown could provide the trigger for new interest in the City Center that elected officials have been searching for, Bruchey said.

“We have got to get out of this box that we’ve got ourselves in and start thinking about what we can do as a project that will bring excitement, interest and opportunity,” he said.

Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood echoed Bruchey’s statement, saying “a multiuse facility ... would completely change the face of downtown, but that is just one example of how we can make smart investments.”

Other questions posed to candidates included ideas on incentives to increase recycling through its new program and ways to foster economic development while keeping a historic feel to the city. Several other questions from the public followed.

Other forum participants included mayoral candidate Brian D. Caron and council candidates Kristin B. Aleshire, William Breichner, Martin Brubaker, Lewis C. Metzner, Larry Bayer and Forrest W. Easton.

One of the two Republican mayoral candidates and five of the six GOP council candidates will advance after the April 3 primary. Winners move onto the Nov. 6 general election.

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