Suns owners, Winchester officials discussing stadium complex

Councilman in Va. city says there's mutual interest for move from Hagerstown

March 28, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS and C.J. LOVELACE |

The owners of the Hagerstown Suns are talking with officials in Winchester, Va., about building a stadium complex on one of several alternative sites in the southeastern part of the city, Winchester City Council members confirmed Wednesday.

“We’re still working on it — I don’t know that anything’s been finalized — but I think Winchester’s very interested in having minor league baseball in Winchester, and I think Mr. (Bruce) Quinn and the ownership group from Hagerstown is interested in Winchester, so I think it’s a good match,” Winchester Councilman Evan H. Clark said.

Winchester officials had previously considered building a stadium for the Suns in the city’s Jim Barnett Park, but that project fell apart March 13, when the city council unanimously rejected the necessary land transfer.

“The citizens spoke out, and we listened, about not having baseball in the city park,” Clark said.

He said the city is looking at two or three pieces of privately-owned land, which are in the 15- to 25-acre range, for a complex that could include retail and restaurant space in addition to a ballpark and parking.


“That obviously would be a spur for economic development and growth in Winchester,” Clark said.

The stadium would be a public-private partnership between the Suns’ owners and the Winchester Economic Development Authority, Clark said.

Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn did not return a call fromThe Herald-Mailseeking comment, but was quoted by The Winchester Star as saying the Suns’ ownership group would pay about $10 million to build about 50,000 square feet of retail store and restaurant space, and would operate a restaurant featuring family-oriented entertainment.

The Star quoted Quinn as saying the target date for the Suns to begin playing in Winchester was the spring of 2014.

Winchester council President Jeffrey Buettner described the concept as “not that far along yet.”

“Right now, we’re very much exploring possible sites and how a deal could be structured,” he said.

Buettner said if a deal is to happen, the city will have it fleshed out within the next 30 days.

Still competing

Meanwhile, Hagerstown officials also have been meeting with Quinn — as recently as March 20 — to discuss the terms of a new lease to keep the Suns in town possibly through 2014 or beyond.

“You can’t leave out that Mr. Quinn has also agreed to fund anywhere from $6 (million) to $9 million for a new multiuse facility here,” Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said Wednesday.

Bruchey said city officials have been talking with Quinn about a 20-year lease, with two five-year options that could keep the team in Hagerstown for 30 years.

The club would pay $300,000 a year toward a new multiuse facility that could be built in downtown Hagerstown, he said.

Bruchey said a multiuse facility, which could hold concerts, festivals or other community events, is the only way to support the debt, stressing that state and county support is “instrumental” to making it happen.

“Personally, I believe that we have a good plan, a good timeline, and one that makes sense,” he said. “It’s great to have a meeting, like Winchester did, and to be able to float this idea, but right now, we’re much further along than what they are because we’ve got our study, we should have all the numbers back in time to review them.”

A meeting with county and state officials is tentatively planned for April 17 to discuss the findings of a stadium study compiled by The Ripken Group. Bruchey said the meeting would be held at City Hall.

Seeking state help

Bruchey sent an email about the stadium project on Wednesday to members of the Washington County legislative delegation, as well as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., House SpeakerMichael E. Busch, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot and the governor’s office.

Bruchey asked state officials to call or email Hagerstown City Council members and urge them to “move forward in haste to solidify a two year extension of the lease with the Hagerstown Suns and in turn receive a 20 year commitment with two 5 year extensions to keep professional baseball in Hagerstown and Washington County.”

“Without a minor league baseball team in Hagerstown we not only lose over 100 jobs but the ability to be able to replace such an amenity ... ever,” Bruchey wrote.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, the delegation chairman, who received the email, said he responded to Bruchey with follow-up questions and comments.

Serafini said the time to contact the governor, Senate president and House speaker is when local governments have a firm plan in mind and are ready to ask for a commitment of state funding.

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