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Hagerstown City Council meets to discuss terms of 20-year lease with Suns

Mayor says it was the first time that the city has met with all parties face to face at one time

August 14, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

The light at the end of the tunnel for lease negotiations with the Hagerstown Suns is quickly approaching, according to several city of Hagerstown officials.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and the Hagerstown City Council met in executive session for about two hours Tuesday before its work session meeting at City Hall to discuss the terms of a 20-year lease with Suns’ ownership as well as other key players involved in keeping the club here long term.

Others attending Tuesday’s meeting included representatives from the South Atlantic League, Maryland Stadium Authority and Washington Nationals player development, Bruchey said, noting it was the first time that the city has met with all parties face to face at one time.

“I think we had a major breakthrough today,” Councilwoman Ashley Haywood said after the work session.

Haywood said having all of the relevant parties together at one time gave city staff and the five-member council more insight on specific issues related to securing a lease to keep the Nationals’ low-level Class A affiliate in town.

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Bruchey called the most recent discussions another “major step,” especially since it was the first time having everyone together so city officials could ask questions and receive answers quickly rather than having to rely on emails or phone conversations separately.

“I’m encouraged,” he said.

A long-term lease also would mark a significant milestone as the city continues to pursue the construction of a new downtown multiuse sports and events center, which would house the Suns.

“Right now, it’s not a question of whether they are going here or going to go there, it’s a question of do we come to the lease terms with the Suns,” Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said. “If we can come to an agreement, they’re ready to sign a 20-year lease. We’re ready to sign a 20-year lease. We just need to come to terms, and make sure funding is in place in the manner that we’re looking for to have it done.”

Negotiations are ongoing, but city staff have begun preparations at the site of the proposed $30 million stadium, which could be built at the corner of West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue.

Project manager Jill Estavillo said the first phase of environmental analysis of the site has been completed, and the city currently is developing cost proposals for the second phase.

The first phase of environmental analysis provides the history of uses of a property, and it showed that a gas station and a dry cleaning business previously had been located on the plot of land, which both are typical uses for an urban area, Estavillo said.

“Nothing in phase one was unexpected,” she said.

The second stage, which is more important, includes actual testing of the ground by boring into the soil, Estavillo said.

Phase two is expected to be completed around the beginning of October, she said.

City staff also are working with architects to complete a concept design for the ballpark to help guide land acquisition and further develop site design, Estavillo said. The city is in the final stages of that process, she added.

As for the lease, Metzner said he hopes to have public meetings in the “very near future” to explain what has been done, as well as make announcements about the stadium and potential funding sources.

“We need to have this thing wrapped up by the end of this month or beginning of next month,” he said. “I think we need to have it done by then, and I anticipate that we will.”

Hagerstown and Washington County officials have agreed to a funding formula that would contribute up to $800,000 annually toward the local debt share, or two-thirds, of the cost for the stadium, which would include an adjacent parking deck. The local debt service also would include contributions from the Suns and the private sector.

The state is expected to foot the bill for the remaining one-third, or about $10 million, but that likely won’t be secured until the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes this winter.

Talks about building a stadium in Winchester, Va., to potentially relocate the Suns there have fizzled in recent weeks, prompting doubts from local officials there that Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn would elect to move the club, according to a Winchester newspaper report last week.

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