Jonathan R. Burrs: Questions aplenty about downtown, multiuse center

August 17, 2012|By JONATHAN R. BURRS

So where will the funding come from for a new multiuse sports and events center?  What evidence have city officials presented the public supporting claims that building a new multiuse center will have the positive economic impact declared by proponents of the project?  These are questions that continue to come to mind when contemplating the future of Hagerstown.

Proponents of the multiuse center say the center “could be” a catalyst for redevelopment of the downtown, often presenting what I believe to be an oversimplified depiction of successful downtown revitalization as a result of the new facility rife with non sequitur, confirmatory bias, and possibly even half truths in apparent efforts to garner public support.

So if this project is worth the investment risk, why aren’t private investors lining up for it?  If Gov. O’Malley and Comptroller Franchot truly support this project, where is the funding commitment from state government and what is the risk that the project will end up being subsidized by local government for years?

Additionally, there are declarations in the Ripken Report, key assumptions that are inconsistent with public information from city, county and state officials, and conclusions drawn from similar projects without considering influences in those locations that simply do not apply in Hagerstown.

According to the Ripken Report, new revenues generated by the project will pay for costs; therefore, the city and county could pay for the new multiuse center without raising taxes. Ripken estimates the project will cost a total of $30 million, will be financed by a 20-year bond and the State of Maryland will cover one-third of the debt service, leaving the remaining two-thirds to be covered by the city, county, Suns and private investment. However, O’Malley and Franchot have been less committal, at no point indicating the state would cover one-third of the estimated costs or $10 million.

Another analysis in the Ripken study that raises questions is usage of the Fluor Field ballpark project in Greenville, S.C., for comparison with Hagerstown. Ripken purports to have used Geographic Information Systems software to identify properties within a half-mile of Fluor Field and catalogued its tax assessed value from 2003-2011. Based on tax records and detailed information on new development, increases in property value and changes in the composition of the downtown, Ripken concludes Fluor Field, which opened in 2006, was the reason for the 31 percent annual increase in assessed property value from 2006 to 2011 and “by all accounts ... completely transformed the City.” Ironically, the language used in the Ripken study highly resembles the language from the ourstatescwebsite.

However, according to the City of Greenville, there were many other economic revitalization initiatives under way in the years leading up to the Fluor Field stadium project, including the 1999 West End Sector Plan, the 2001 Green Avenue Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy, the October 2001 West End Streetscape Master Plan, the November 2002 West Greenville Master Plan, the 2002 Western Corridor Economic Development Study, the December 2003 Community Input Summary: Ballpark Workshop, the 2004 Greenville High School Expansion Master Plan, the University Ridge Extension Study and the South Carolina Children’s Theatre Master Plan. Arguably, Greenville’s West End was already being transformed prior to the ballpark project, therefore it can be generally concluded that the ballpark project enhanced economic revitalization as opposed to being the catalyst for economic revitalization in Greenville’s West End.

In my opinion, there are too many unknowns and questions to be answered to determine if building a new multiuse center in downtown Hagerstown will live up to proclamations and declarations of proponents of the project. And until the city can secure confirmation of state and private investment for the project in addition to viable long-term economic revitalization plans for the city rather than more promises and election-year gimmicks, at this point I do not see the justification for building a new stadium.

Jonathan R. Burrs is a candidate for Hagerstown City Council.

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