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Most meeting speakers favor new stadium in downtown Hagerstown

April 24, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — More than a week after the unveiling of a feasibility study for a new multiuse sports and events center in downtown Hagerstown, public comment about the subject dominated a Hagerstown City Council meeting Tuesday night.

Eighteen people spoke out — 16 in favor and two against — on the possibility of constructing the new stadium, which would be the new home of the Hagerstown Suns minor league baseball team.

Ripken Design, an independent consulting firm from Baltimore, presented its report last week to city, Washington County and state elected officials. Ripken representatives said a new downtown facility is affordable and would have numerous economic benefits to the city and surrounding communities.

People spoke for more than an hour, noting both positives and negatives about the proposed center, but the overarching theme to Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II was that every person spoke highly of the Suns as an amenity to the city.

“It’s like losing an arm,” he said. “Another one’s gone, so we’ve got to stop doing that because eventually we’re not going to be here anymore.”

Private funding for the center appeared to be a sticking point in garnering state support when officials met last week.

Bruchey said he is working on a proposal for a new lease with Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn that includes at least a $500,000 per year contribution to the city just in baseball-related revenues if the new ballpark is built — a bump from the $300,000 in rent that was mentioned in the Ripken report.

“I definitely believe that it’s going to be more than that,” he said.

Dan Spedden of Hagerstown said he’s been to 70 different stadiums — including major league, minor league and amateur stadiums — and he’s never seen a town that regretted building a downtown ballpark.

A stadium in downtown Hagerstown “will change everything,” he said. “Once the fighting is over and bricks start stacking, things change.”

Several people from surrounding communities in the county also spoke.

Todd Bolton of Smithsburg said the Suns are a “fabulous source of entertainment,” and the new center could be a “win-win for everyone.”

Babs Savitt of Myersville got choked up when talking about what the team meant to her family, who has been traveling to Hagerstown for three generations to watch the Single-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals play.

“We always pass by the Frederick Keys (stadium) and continued over the mountains because Hagerstown always had a homey feel about it,” Savitt said.

Louise Dawson of Hagerstown said she likes having the team in town, but doesn’t like the proposed location near the corner of East Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue.

“Everyone in our neighborhood is upset about it,” she said.

Barbara Hovermill of Williamsport also spoke against the center, saying that taxpayer money should not be used to fund a private enterprise. She would rather see the money go toward renovating Municipal Stadium because “it has history” and is in a better location.

“I think there are lots of things that need to be looked at until you come to a final decision,” Hovermill said.

City and county officials will meet again at 3 p.m. Tuesday to discuss funding options, Bruchey said.

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