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Hagerstown, Winchester officials still trying to woo Suns

June 04, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Officials in Hagerstown and Winchester, Va., say both cities continue to hold discussions with Hagerstown Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn in an effort to convince the team to stay or move to their respective cities.

Jim Deskins, Winchester’s Economic Development Authority director, said last week that city is working to develop a “business deal” with Quinn.

Hagerstown officials said they are trying to work out the terms of a long-term lease that would keep the Class A minor league team in the Hub City for at least 20 years.

“We’ve met with (Suns ownership) on more than one occasion, and there was a conference call as recently as this week as we continue to work through the terms of a long-term lease,” Hagerstown Economic Development Manager Jill Estavillo said.

At the same time, plans to build a new ballpark at one of two sites in Winchester have progressed.

Deskins said officials have finished preliminary site analysis and total cost estimates on two possible locations near Apple Blossom Mall along South Pleasant Valley Road adjacent to Interstate 81.

The EDA has not yet selected which tract it would like to develop, but the facility likely would cost about $25 million, Deskins said.

“If we go forward, we would have a site to work with by the middle of (June),” he said.

The EDA will meet in closed session June 18 at Winchester City Hall to discuss how it might progress before seeking recommendations from the Winchester City Council on June 19, Deskins said.

Winchester has been in “continued discussions” with Quinn, Deskins said, noting the city is evaluating the potential rate of return for both parties.

When reached for comment Friday, Quinn said he has not spoken with Winchester officials about their progress with a potential stadium proposal, and would not say whether he favored Hagerstown or Winchester.

“We don’t have any deals” on the table yet, he said.

Quinn said last month that he anticipated making an investment in the $5 million to $7 million range if he decided to move the team to Winchester.

Deskins said the facility — which officials said also would include a family entertainment area and restaurants — wouldn’t cost the city any tax dollars.

Meanwhile, Estavillo said negotiations in Hagerstown have been progressing at “a quick pace,” and the city is seeking a 20-year lease with renewal options to keep the South Atlantic League affiliate of the Washington Nationals in town.

Although it’s contingent upon ongoing lease negotiations, city officials have said the Suns would pay $300,000 in annual rent to play in the facility, or $6 million over two decades.

That figure could be a little higher depending on the terms of a lease, such as who receives naming rights and control of nonbaseball-related activities, Estavillo said.

A $1 surcharge on ticket sales, and a percentage of money generated through admissions and amusement taxes at the facility also would go to the city in daily operating revenue to offset costs, she said.

“This project has been moving since the concept of the downtown location came about late last year,” Estavillo said. “And we’re very optimistic for the next steps of the project and to secure the Hagerstown Suns here in Hagerstown.”

Although additional site analysis still is needed, the downtown location continues to be the only one considered by city officials because it represents the highest potential for redevelopment opportunities in Hagerstown’s core, she said.

A preliminary timeline for Hagerstown’s proposed $30 million downtown multiuse sports and events center released in early May projected construction wrapping up in time for the 2015 baseball season.

Hagerstown and Washington County officials have agreed on a funding formula for the estimated $30 million facility that would provide up to $16 million over 20 years toward the local debt service of the ballpark that would be built near the corner of Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue.

Basing projections on a feasibility study prepared by consultant Ripken Design of Baltimore, the local debt-service share would make up two-thirds of the project, and include investments from the private sector and the Suns.

The remaining one-third, about $10 million, is expected to be paid by the state, officials have said.

Asked about the ongoing lease negotiations with Quinn, Estavillo said she didn’t have a specific timetable, but more information might be available when the mayor and the Hagerstown City Council meet Tuesday.

“We feel optimistic that we’re going to be able to retain the Suns, and we’re going to be able to work through the long-term lease,” she said.

After a closed executive session set for 3 p.m., Tuesday’s council work session meeting will begin at about 4:30 p.m. at City Hall at 1 E. Franklin St.

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