A private consultant’s long-awaited feasibility study was released Friday, giving city and Washington County officials information about the possibilities and effects of constructing a $30 million multiuse stadium and events center in the downtown Hagerstown.
The city would be “unambiguously strengthened” by the development of a new downtown multiuse sports and events center, according to the report by Ripken Design, a Baltimore consulting headed by Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr.
The multiuse center and an adjacent parking deck would have a total direct, indirect and induced economic impact of approximately $44.5 million over the first 10 years, the report concluded.
It also found that the project would create approximately $12.4 million in earnings through 312 jobs over the 10-year period.
The study concludes that the renovation of 80-year-old Municipal Stadium, which the Suns currently call home, is “not a feasible option.”
Moreover, the departure of the team from Hagerstown would result in an annual loss of $539,478 in direct local spending, $140,024 of tax revenue and approximately 150 full-time and seasonal jobs, the report said.
A stadium could help rekindle downtown revitalization efforts and create the vibrant downtown area city officials have been talking about for over a decade, the report said.
“I believe we look at it as an overall development project in our inner core,” Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said. “It makes sense that the city of Hagerstown invests in our community and our people, and help to promote private investment.”
City and county elected officials will meet with members of the state legislative delegation on Tuesday to go over details of the report and discuss their next move. The public meeting will begin at 3 p.m. at Hagerstown City Hall, 1 E. Franklin St.
Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the goal of Tuesday’s meeting is get the information to the public, allow residents to digest it, and then offer their input to elected officials.
The report has a “great amount of data and it seems to be that they did a really good job in gathering that data,” county Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said. “It is well presented, and I think it will facilitate a really good decision.”
But “I have no clue what that decision will be,” she said.
Financing, naming rights
The project would be financed through a 20-year bond with an interest rate of 3.2 percent.
Assuming that one-third of the required funding comes from the state, then the city, county, Suns and the private sector would be responsible for the remaining two-thirds — roughly $13.5 million in local debt service over 10 years, according to the report.
Although lease negotiations are still in limbo, the report assumed the Suns would make annual rent payments of $300,000, or $3 million over 10 years, as the main tenant of the facility.
“If we went with the 30-year bond, the net required funds would be less, and (the study) doesn’t take into consideration ... nonbaseball revenue,” Bruchey said. “I see that number increasing dramatically.
“And this doesn’t take into consideration any private sector monies of any kind,” he said. “I still think there’s very possible opportunities for naming rights ... that could work into this funding plan.”
Findings are based on three attendance models: least projected, 3,200; projected, 3,740; and highest projected, 4,250. None of those attendance projections is out of line with South Atlantic League teams or the rest of Minor League Baseball, the report said.
In all three scenarios, the city and county would generate new revenues that exceed the total amount of remaining debt service over the first 10 years, bringing in anywhere between $10.7 million and $25.9 million, depending on the attendance model.
That means the facility could be built without the need of a tax increase for Hagerstown and Washington County residents, according to the report.
Metzner said he and the city council would most likely be looking at the “worst-case scenario,” meaning the least projected numbers.
Market analysis of the area supports increased attendance models, naming the poor conditions of Municipal Stadium as a major factor for poor numbers currently, fewer than 2,000 per game.
The local market has “sufficient disposable income to support the projected attendance,” the report said.
The average attendance at a new Single-A downtown baseball stadium, moving within the same market, increased total attendance by 109 percent over the first three years of operation. Numbers tend to slightly drop in the fourth year, then stay relatively consistent, the report said.
Meanwhile, the plan for a multiuse center in downtown Hagerstown is consistent with the city’s existing development plans, clearly supporting the nearby Arts and Entertainment District that was established in 2001, the report said.
The proposed multiuse center “has the potential to establish itself as the dominant sports venue in Western Maryland,” the report said.
But in addition to the Suns’ 70 home games each year, the center also could be the site of various fundraisers, concerts, movie nights, company outings, as well as high school baseball playoff games, soccer matches, a Thanksgiving football game or amateur baseball tournaments, according to the study.
As instrumental as the proposed center would be to an overall redevelopment project for downtown Hagerstown, the report said that not building it would risk the loss of the Suns to another city, such as Winchester, Va., still a major player in the Suns sweepstakes.
Winchester officials have been in talks with Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn about building their own stadium to house the Single-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
The loss of the Suns “would end an 80-year history of minor league baseball, sacrifice millions of dollars in local investment and tax revenue and eliminate one more entertainment option for a city with few from which to choose,” the report said.
Ripken Design performed a thorough study of minor league stadiums — downtown, suburban and rural — built after 2000, taking into account development around the parks, attendance and tax assessment revenue growth.
In every case, downtown ballparks showed greater economic growth in terms of new development and increased property value, the report said.
Greenville, S.C.’s Fluor Field, which opened just before the recession in 2006, is the best example of a prosperous downtown stadium project, the report said.
Every property within a half-mile radius of the ballpark has shown property values increase 31 percent annually from 2006 to 2011, revealing the resilience of an area anchored by a ballpark.
Callaham talked to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot during his visit to Hagerstown Wednesday. She told him that city and county officials have used exhausted the use of “R-words” like reinvented and revitalize, and now it’s time to use the “H-word.”
“And that’s hope,” the commissioner said. “What this study does ... it says we can do a major project if the data supports that. So for me, that’s hope. We’ve never had that kind of hope; this can-do attitude.”
If you go...
What: Public meeting of city, county and state officials to discuss the results of a multiuse stadium feasibility study by Ripken Design
When: Tuesday, 3 p.m.
Where: City council chambers at Hagerstown City Hall, 1 E. Franklin St.
Ripken Design stadium study