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Maryland Comptroller says multiuse stadium in downtown Hagerstown is a 'must-do'

Peter Franchot assures taxpayers that if investment is made, money will follow

April 11, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, left, listens to Hagerstown Mayor Robert Bruchey II explain where a proposed site of a new stadium would be during Franchot's visit Wednesday to a Hagerstown Suns game at Municipal Stadium.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

A new multiuse stadium in downtown Hagerstown is a “must-do” for Hagerstown, Washington County and the state of Maryland, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot told local government and business leaders Wednesday morning.

“I can pretty much assure every taxpayer in this area that if the investment’s made in this stadium, you’ll get something that makes money, No. 1, and No. 2, it’s a source of civic pride for the next hundred years,” said Franchot, standing in the picnic area at Municipal Stadium.

Franchot stopped at the stadium during a rare morning Hagerstown Suns game as part of a planned visit to the Hagerstown area.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert Bruchey II brought a map of a proposed site for a multiuse stadium, showing Franchot where a stadium and new parking deck could be built.

That stadium site is off West Baltimore Street and includes land now occupied by a county office building, a car wash, a Laundromat andThe Herald-Mailparking lot.

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“I’m happy to be supportive as comptroller and will, but it’s got to come from the locals,” Franchot said in an interview after meeting informally with government, business and Suns officials.

Asked if he would vote for a new Hagerstown stadium as a member of the state Board of Public Works in Annapolis, Franchot said: “I can pretty much assure everybody that at the state level, there will be a positive response to a good, consensus proposal. You’ve got the site, you’ve got the team. Don’t give it up.”

After chatting with Franchot and Bruchey near the left-field fence, Bruce Quinn, majority owner of Hagerstown Baseball LLC, said it was good to see the state comptroller at the ballpark representing a state commitment to Hagerstown.

Quinn said he still hoped to get something in writing regarding a new stadium in Hagerstown.

“We’re a business, and we need to go wherever we have an offer in writing for a new stadium at this point, and we only have one offer at this point right now, and we’re working with that,” Quinn said, referring to an offer from Winchester, Va.

Quinn said he hoped Hagerstown officials could review a feasibility study by Ripken Design and negotiate something with the Suns.

The Ripken report is expected to be discussed at Tuesday’s Hagerstown City Council meeting, according to Bruchey.

Bruchey has said that after the Ripken Group’s findings are available, he hopes to have a meeting with county and possibly state officials to discuss the city’s next step — whether to renovate Municipal Stadium or seek construction of a new stadium.

Municipal Stadium, at the intersection of Eastern and Memorial boulevards, opened in 1930, but has been renovated periodically.

“We sure like Hagerstown and certainly would like to stay here for our fans if possible,” Quinn said.

City officials have been negotiating to extend the Suns’ lease for Municipal Stadium. The current lease permits the team to play at the stadium through this season.

Not ‘just about baseball’

The Washington Nationals player-development contract with the Suns expires at the end of this season.

The Single-A affiliate Suns were the only team in the Nationals organization not offered a renewal.

Asked if the Suns had a deadline from the Nationals in terms of getting a stadium deal, Quinn said he had not discussed that and didn’t know when the Nationals contract with the Suns would be renewed.

“It’s not an easy issue. Everybody wants to be protected,” Bruchey said of negotiations between the Suns and the city.

“I believe that we have to make an investment, and sometimes ya got to be the first in,” Bruchey said.

Asked if he was concerned about attendance at Suns games, Bruchey said: “We gotta get off the fact that this is just about baseball, because it’s not.”

He said it’s about having a facility that can hold 200 events a year and, between a new multiuse facility and a rebuilt library, attracting 1 million people a year downtown that will help new and existing downtown businesses.

While showing Franchot a map of the site for a new stadium, Bruchey mentioned that West Washington Street and the unit block of Summit Avenue are “two streets that sorely need redevelopment to help bring activity back to them and increase our tax base.”

Bringing more people downtown and the construction of a third downtown parking deck will help that, Bruchey said.

“I love the fact that there’s a site that makes sense,” Franchot told local government and business leaders.

“Sometimes these stadiums can be controversial because people ... get upset about public money being spent,” Franchot said later in an interview.

“I can guarantee you when the stadium’s built, particularly if it’s at that downtown site, it will ... spawn jobs, economic development,” Franchot said.

“To Hagerstown and to Washington County, please, don’t get in a big fight over this. Come together, because it’s an extraordinarily important, it’s a great opportunity,” he said.

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