Many of my monthly columns have addressed revitalization of downtown Hagerstown. In fact, in my December 2011 column, I suggested the need for a bold initiative, such as building a new stadium in downtown. Partly because of that column, I was invited by the city to serve on a committee to help guide development of a Multi-Use Sports and Events Center (MUSEC). I feel the Hagerstown Suns are an important asset to our community, but retaining them was not my primary motivation for agreeing to help. Downtown revitalization was.
A revitalized downtown could have lots of activity, provide jobs, provide crime-free streets and have buildings that are generally occupied. Such an outcome would not only be attractive and a source of pride for our region, but could result in enough new tax revenue to pay for the MUSEC. New tax revenue would be derived because the assessed value of existing downtown buildings would increase. The best way to increase assessed values of real estate is to create an environment that attracts businesses. The best way to attract businesses downtown is to provide customers. The MUSEC is a bold project that could attract a large number of people — customers — downtown.
The buzz about the proposed MUSEC is unprecedented in the years I have lived here. However, as is often the case, some of the buzz reflects limited information and, in some cases, misinformation.
The mayor has set a goal of holding 200 events at the MUSEC. These events would include activities on the field, in suites or on the concourse. The primary tenant, the Suns, would play approximately 70 home dates. Most events would not be under their control. Yet, some critics want the Suns to pay rent that is sufficient to pay for the entire facility. To do so would be analogous to Valley Mall requiring Sears to pay rent for all of the stores in the mall.
The county is playing a critical role in financing the MUSEC. However, no county tax revenue would be used. This is possible because the city is unique among local municipalities by having to pay the county for 911 services. The County Commissioners have agreed that should the city build the MUSEC, the county will terminate the contract requiring this payment, in 2015, while continuing to provide the city with 911 services. By cooperating with the city in this manner, the county will not expend any of its tax revenue.
The argument has been made that the people of the county should decide this issue, as if to argue it should be put to a referendum. Unless the County Commissioners decide to change the course of their support, the ultimate decision to construct the MUSEC will rest with the city. Ultimately, the citizens of Hagerstown, through their elected officials, will make the decision. That is the way our political system works.
Another frequently heard argument is that instead of constructing a new facility, Municipal Stadium should be renovated and a parking deck built at the site of either the old MELP plant or First Urban Fiber. Renovating Municipal Stadium, acquiring additional property, demolishing the plants there and building a parking deck would not be that much less expensive than the proposed project. But, under this scenario, there would be no daytime or nonbaseball-related revenue to help defray the cost of the parking deck. And more importantly, renovating Municipal Stadium would not achieve the goal of revitalizing downtown.
Some argue that building a new facility is appropriate, but that The Herald-Mail parking lot site is wrong. The most frequently mentioned alternative site is that of the old hospital. A site near the interstate also receives support. However, both sites are too far from downtown to draw the visitors that could start and maintain the revitalization process.
Opponents have argued that traffic will be paralyzed. A traffic study concluded that downtown streets can accommodate the traffic. The concern about traffic would need to be monitored as the stimulative effects on downtown begin to be realized; however, all indications suggest that traffic would not be of concern.
I applaud the mayor and members of City Council for their vision, and the County Commissioners for their support. I believe that the future will prove that constructing the Multi-Use Sports and Events Center was the right decision. This game-changer will be good for downtown, be viewed as a source of great pride for our community and, with the support of the private sector, prove to be the financially wise decision.
David Hanlin is a Hagerstown resident. His email address is email@example.com.