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Hagerstown City Council members open to stadium timeline

Officials agree first major hurdle is securing longterm lease with Suns as primary tenant

May 15, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

Although several crucial uncertainties remain, Hagerstown City Council members Tuesday seemed receptive to the preliminary timeline developed by city officials for planning and constructing a downtown multiuse sports and events center.

City Engineer Rodney Tissue discussed the timetable during a  council work session.

“Sitting here in May of 2012, this is our best guess,” Tissue told the council. “There’s a lot of factors that could influence it, but it seems like a logical pattern of how the timeline could work.”

City and elected officials agreed that the first major hurdle is securing a longterm lease with the Hagerstown Suns minor league baseball team as the primary tenant of the facility, which could be built at the corner of Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue by spring 2015, according to the timeline.

“That in and of itself is paramount to the project occurring and being a project that we all can agree to,” Tissue said.

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Later, Councilman Martin Brubaker pointed out a small gap in the timeline — between October and December this year — that includes no ongoing tasks. The gap lies between the preliminary design and securing state funding stages.

“I think as soon as we get the preliminary design process completed, then we should start really in earnest working with the state and not wait until December,” Brubaker said.

Two-thirds of the facility would be paid through local debt service supported by the city, Washington County, private investment and the Suns, while the final one-third — about $10 million — is expected to come from the state, city officials have said.

Brubaker also suggested that the new lease with the Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals should include some type of waiver that would protect the city in the event that the Suns end up leaving in the future.

“We’re spending a lot of public money on this stadium, and 20 years goes by before you know it,” Brubaker said. “I think we ought to be lobbying the South Atlantic League (and organized baseball). If they want this major public investment in Hagerstown, then we need (to get) something back.”

The cause for concern stems from the fact that if organized baseball leaves Hagerstown, it would be unlikely that it could return because the Frederick Keys, a High-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, would then own territorial rights to the area and could block another professional team from locating in the city, council members said.

Brubaker said that city officials should examine leases with other clubs in the South Atlantic League to make sure their deal is “as secure as possible.”

“I think we just need to protect our citizens,” he said.

If state funding can be secured, demolition of the proposed site could begin around this time next year and construction could begin in fall 2013.

An adjacent parking deck on Antietam Street that would include about 400 spaces is projected to be completed by the end of 2014, according to the timeline.

In the fall of 2014, city officials plan on putting the final touches on a traffic plan that would help disperse motorists after games by synchronizing traffic signals, Tissue said.

“The traffic study is finished,” he said. “This would be more of a timing” issue.

However, nothing is set in stone yet.

The Suns are still being courted by officials in Winchester, Va., who have been developing plans at two different sites in an attempt to land the club, Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn said recently.

But if all goes as planned for Hagerstown officials, construction could finish up in time for the first pitch to be thrown in the 2015 season.

“Realistically, I think opening day 2015 is where this works out,” Tissue said.

Councilwoman Ashley Haywood was absent from the meeting.

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