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Officials question stadium feasibility as two cities court Suns

April 17, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • This March 12 file photo shows the site of a proposed new stadium in downtown Hagerstown north of West Baltimore Street and east of Summit Avenue.
This March 12 file photo shows the site of a proposed new stadium in downtown Hagerstown north of West Baltimore Street and east of Summit Avenue.

HAGERSTOWN — It’s no secret that Hagerstown Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn has been considering moving the team to Winchester, Va., where the idea of a stadium in a new location has been gaining momentum.

However, the release last week of Ripken Design’s feasibility study for a new multiuse sports and events center in downtown Hagerstown is setting up an interesting scenario for Quinn.

City and Washington County elected officials were joined Tuesday afternoon by members of the state legislative delegation to review the study and talk about constructing the proposed $30 million downtown facility near the intersection of East Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue.

Quinn, who was present at the meeting, insisted that it’s not a race or a bidding war between the two cities to put together a package that would best suit the Single-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

“Is it a race? No. It’s not a race,” Quinn said. “Until this point, we’ve only had one opportunity, and it’s been in Winchester. So it looks like we’re gaining momentum here in Hagerstown.

“The (state) comptroller came out. The mayor’s doing a nice job of keeping this moving forward,”  he said. “The city and county are both involved now, and Ripken (Design’s) report was what everybody was waiting for.”

State Sen. Christopher B. Shank, and Dels. John P. Donoghue and Andrew A. Serafini attended the meeting, which was open to the public, to hear an overview of the study from Ripken representatives inside the packed council chambers at Hagerstown City Hall.

The general consensus after the presentation was that the study was comprehensive and well-done, but several officials still questioned how it would be paid for, and whether Ripken officials considered alternative sites and traffic in the downtown area.

The state would be responsible for one-third of the funding while the city, county, Suns and the private sector would make up for the other two-thirds, according to the study.

Ripken Project Manager Dan Taylor — who assured officials the consultant has nothing to gain if Hagerstown went through with the project — said it would pay for itself in less than 10 years and transform a parking lot into a destination that would foster new development for the city’s struggling downtown.

But Serafini raised an important issue if the state officials are going to get the Maryland Stadium Authority to foot its share of the bill.

“Arguments are being made that it’s a benefit to everybody in the community economically, and that’s fine,” he said. “But it’s interesting that it was very consistent in all the other stadiums — there was definitely one-third private money that came to it.”

So far, the Suns would be responsible for $300,000 in annual rent to play at the facility, the study said. But little other private support has become known for the project.

If more private funding doesn’t surface, it leaves the taxpayers on the hook for more of the bill than other projects approved by the stadium authority because city and county funds likely would be needed to fill the void, Serafini said.

Quinn said he likes the project and hopes to get something in writing in time to satisfy the team’s needs in acquiring a new player development contract to remain affiliated with the Nationals and stay in Hagerstown.

But Winchester is definitely still on his radar.

“Winchester also offers a tremendous opportunity down there, so it’s going to become more of a timing issue for us and our future plans for our business, and for the Nationals,” Quinn said.

Timing might become the biggest issue because the Maryland General Assembly just finished up its latest 90-day session and likely won’t reconvene for almost nine months, Serafini said.

“We can’t get any kind of commitments until probably at the earliest next January,” he said. “They’ll be verbal (approvals) and maybes, but nothing will be firm and in writing until almost a year from now.

“As far as the contingencies of the state coming in for a third, and what they can help in the commitment, that’s going to be tough.  Timing is going to be difficult for us.”

No public comment was taken because the meeting was meant to inform elected officials and give them a chance to ask questions of the private consultants.

City and county officials hope the public will take some time to review the study, which can be found online at the city’s website, before they meet again May 1 to further discuss the funding options.

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