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Robert E. Bruchey II: Let the SUNShine on downtown

May 21, 2012

George Washington Carver said, “Where there is no vision, there is no hope,” a quote that is befitting the recent decision of the Washington County Commissioners and the Hagerstown Mayor and City Council to fund a multiuse sports and events center in downtown.

Over the course of the last six months, there has been much discussion and uncertainty as to the future of Minor League Baseball in our community. And, as the council has had an opportunity to examine pros and cons of retaining baseball as an amenity to our citizens, they have determined that such an economic benefit is worthy of keeping.

With the assistance of the County Commissioners, we were able to fund an Economic Feasibility Study performed by the Ripken Design Group, experts in the field of Minor League Baseball that the Stadium Authority for the State of Maryland regards in the highest standards, to determine the feasibility of a new multiuse sports and events center in the core of the City.

After reviewing the information of the study, it was determined that not only was this a feasible project, it was an investment that could create opportunities for private investment in our City Center. The decision was made to move forward with a funding plan to bring this vision to fruition. There will be many challenges in the coming months and years that will need to be overcome — ingress and egress of traffic, security for the citizens and parking issues that will need to be monitored. There will need to be outreach meetings with the citizens who will be directly impacted from this project.

There will be plans to supplement parking by providing a trolley system that will bring visitors from the edge of the city to the city core and back. There will be new development and redevelopment of current structures that will meet the city’s specifications for many of our incentive programs. There will be an increase in our police presence in the core which will be supplemented by our speed enforcement camera funds. All of these issues will be addressed over the coming months.

The real impact here will be the feet on the street. With the library reopening in 2013 and the completion of this project by 2015, it is estimated that there will be an additional 600,000 people in our core. This impact of people will bring new and renewed interest in our core for our existing and future businesses. Unfortunately, there will be skeptics who will attack this project from every angle without first allowing the time necessary to address the challenges we know we will face. Those skeptics are the same ones who raise their concerns any time any public money is spent on a project that they feel does not directly benefit them.

I remind those people that if that were the sentiments of our forefathers, we would not have some of the most amazing amenities that we have today. The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts would not be in City Park; there would be no City Park. There would be no Potterfield Pool, Pangborn Park, Hellane Park, Wheaton Park, Mill Park or Hager Park. There would be no Hagerstown Greens at Hamilton Run and no Fairgrounds Park, where many of our citizens enjoy a multitude of recreational activities. There would be no BMX Track, no Hagerstown Ice and Sports Complex, and certainly no Municipal Stadium or Hagerstown Suns.

I mention all of these great citizen amenities because they have one major factor in common; they are all subsidized by taxpayer funds. Some have questioned why we aren’t reconstructing Municipal Stadium for the Suns and to satisfy the Washington Nationals. Some points of interest that are not well known are lack of expandability, limited benefit to economic development and no benefit to the core of the city. There are flooding issues and topography issues that limit placement and leveling of the field.

Many don’t understand the reason for not expanding across the street at First Urban Fiber. It’s simple really. Unless a buyer of the property wants to take over the $2.3 million in debt that is owed on the transfer station that won’t be paid off until December 2023, there is no way to take over that property. Expansion to the MELP plant site is limited and to relocate the transfer station would cost well over $1 million for that alone. The former hospital site is topography-challenged and the area is not large enough, and again, it does little or nothing for our core.

The core needs a destination that will drive people into the City Center — a destination that will hold them in our core to visit and take advantage of what we now have and will have to offer. A multiuse sports and events center will help people rediscover downtown. 

Let’s let the “SUNShine on Downtown!”

Robert E. Bruchey II is mayor of the City of Hagerstown.

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