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Hagerstown, Washington County officials meeting Tuesday to discuss multiuse center

Funding options for the $30 million facility expected to be part of conversation

April 30, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY — If the proposal for a new multiuse sports and events center in downtown Hagerstown is to become a reality, a meeting Tuesday afternoon might prove critical.

City and Washington County officials will meet at 3 p.m. to find out if all parties are on board for the project and to begin to discuss funding options for the $30 million facility that would house the Hagerstown Suns baseball team.

After the Board of County Commissioners holds its own discussion at 9:30 a.m., a joint meeting with the Hagerstown City Council will take place inside the council chamber at City Hall.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he hasn’t gotten any definite commitments from county officials that they are in favor of building the complex, but guessed that they would be in favor of “doing something for the downtown.”

“I’m pretty optimistic that things are going in the right direction,” he said.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said the commissioners would be discussing options for how the county might contribute funding to the project.

“I am anxious to have that conversation,” Callaham said.

She said the project, as proposed, seems “very doable” and would benefit the community, but she wanted to hear from County Administrator Gregory B. Murray about options for county funding before making up her mind on the issue of a county contribution.

“If it is affordable to the county, I would like to make it possible for the city to get it done,” she said.

The other four commissioners did not return calls Monday afternoon.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he’s received a “large amount” of public support via email for the project that would put a ballpark at the corner of East Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue, and he anticipates support from the commissioners.

“What I would anticipate is trying to put together the appropriate funding package with the last key of that package being private investment,” Metzner said. “And I think that is the linchpin to all of this now.”

According to the feasibility study by Ripken Design, the Suns would be responsible for annual rent payments of $300,000 annually for 20 years.

However, Bruchey said last week that the team’s contribution would likely be closer to the $500,000 to $600,000 range each year.

Additionally, the board of directors for the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau recently approved a contribution of up to $60,000 annually for six years toward the project, according to Tom Riford, president and chief executive officer of the local CVB.

“The board of directors passionately believed that the new facility will not only be a significant renewal project, but also an amenity and an attraction,” Riford said, reading from the board’s letter to the county commissioners.

The funds will be paid out of the CVB’s allotment of hotel-motel tax collected by the county, Riford said.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce also issued a statement Monday expressing its support for the project.

“Similar downtown projects in other cities have proven a boon to economic development, and the chamber fully anticipates increased investment — and increased assessments — in the area immediately surrounding the complex and beyond,” Chamber President Brien Poffenberger said in the statement.

Poffenberger said “lots” of private-sector businesses have expressed interest in the project, but it’s still too early in the project timeline to anticipate significant monetary support from local companies.

Metzner brought up an interesting way that individuals could get involved in supporting the facility, which would include an adjacent parking deck on East Antietam Street.

“I would like to see us open this up to the community to sell stock shares in the stadium so people who want to show that they’re interested, like in Green Bay, have the opportunity to buy a $100 share,” he said.

The private sector remains an important piece of the puzzle if the city hopes to receive one-third of the funding from the Maryland Stadium Authority, which prefers projects to receive one-third of the capital from private investments. The city and county would be responsible for the remaining one-third.

City officials have maintained that there would be no tax increase associated with the project.

Councilman William Breichner said it is significant to note the positive working relationship between the city and county in trying to flesh out a deal that would be suitable for both parties.

Councilmen Forrest Easton and Martin Brubaker, and Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood did not respond to calls seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Even if officials decide to move forward during today’s meeting, Bruchey said he is aware that some issues of the proposal still need to be addressed — such as making sure the parking at Potomac Towers and other nearby communities is not disturbed once the center is built — but there is still plenty of time to iron out the kinks.

“It’s not like this thing’s going to be built Wednesday,” he said.

Staff Writer Heather Keels contributed to this story.

If you go ...

What: Joint meeting of Hagerstown city and Washington County elected officials to discuss funding options for a proposed multiuse sports and events center in downtown Hagerstown

When: 3 p.m. Tuesday

Where: City Hall, 1 E. Franklin St., Hagerstown

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