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Residents quiz Hagerstown City Council on proposed stadium

Mayor says many of the answers to people's questions simply aren't available yet

May 22, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

Eight people interrogated the Hagerstown City Council for more than an hour Tuesday night, all with questions about the proposed multiuse sports and events center that could be built in the city’s downtown.

Noise, parking, increased traffic and how the estimated $30 million project would be paid for continued to be major concerns from speakers, many of whom live near the proposed site at the corner of Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue.

Prior to the public-comment period, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said the project is “still in its infancy,” and many of the answers to people’s questions simply aren’t available yet.

At this point, city officials do not know what the costs of construction, land acquisition or demolition will be, nor do they know what environmental issues exist at the site, and how traffic and parking will be addressed, Bruchey said.

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He said all that the city has done so far is a agree to a possible funding formula to support the local share of the project, which would be the new home of the Hagerstown Suns baseball team.

No other money has been spent besides that for the Ripken Design consultant’s study, and planning for the facility needs to be handled “just like any other project,” he said.

Bruchey’s comments comes on the heels of Councilman Martin Brubaker issued a statement Monday saying that a public hearing should be planned to discuss the project with citizens.

“But we don’t have a project yet,” the mayor said. “We have the makings of a project. We have the possibility of a project. We have the opportunity to create opportunities, but we haven’t done that yet.

“And until then, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to have any kind of a public forum because we don’t have the answers.”

Ruth Knepper of 45 W. Baltimore St., said that many people who live in that area downtown are senior citizens who are living on fixed income.

“We need a drugstore downtown. We need a grocery store downtown ... we don’t need a sports complex,” Knepper said. “We can’t afford it.”

Reiterating his previous point, Bruchey said: “Those are issues that we need to address.”

Penny Nigh, a former city council member and current candidate in November, also raised numerous questions of her own, as well as those from people who live in the vicinity.

Nigh questioned the process in which the city acquires money from the state, which is expected to foot the bill for approximately one-third of the project in the amount of $10 million. She asked the council to find out if that money would have to be repaid at some point.

Other questions from Nigh involved parking, tailgating liabilities and site constraints at Municipal Stadium, and why it could not be renovated instead, but Bruchey’s response was the same.

“We will have a response to you when we have answers to the questions,” Bruchey said.

Another former city council member, Kristin Aleshire, who is also running in this year’s general election, raised concerns related to the Ripken report, specifically about costs, site issues and ownership of a new facility.

Aleshire said property acquisition is not included in the report, and it does not indicate that the Suns would be required to maintain an affiliation with its Major League Baseball parent team, the Washington Nationals.

Lease negotiations with Hagerstown Baseball LLC, which took over ownership of the Suns in 2010, have been ongoing, and its the first thing that needs to be shored up before the city can proceed in the planning process, according to city officials.

Council members agreed that it was a good thing to hear all these concerns now, so they could be addressed if the project does move forward.

But that still remains to be seen at this point, Councilman Lewis Metzner said.

“Any one of these things could be a stopper,” he said.

Metzner said he would have been “absolutely flabbergasted and amazed if people who lived next to this site” aren’t asking questions.

“We’re not here to turn up our noses at the very city that we represent,” he said. “I would like to think that we can provide the types of things that you’re asking for.”

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