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Hagerstown looking into forums to help educate public on proposed stadium project

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

After citizens voiced strong opposition to the city’s proposed downtown multiuse sports and events center a week ago, City of Hagerstown officials are looking at ways to provide more details and to create an open dialogue about the project’s progress.

The Hagerstown City Council held a 45-minute discussion during its work session Tuesday to talk about possible avenues for disseminating the most accurate and up-to-date information available, including planning small-group forums to get more one-on-one time with citizens and hosting tours of Municipal Stadium to show exactly why the renovation of the 80-year-old ballpark is not feasible for the city and the team.

“Verbally, the citizens may come up to mayor and council, ask questions, tell you whether they think it’s a good project or not and if they wish to support it or not,” City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman told the five-member council.

Zimmerman said the main goal is to get information out to people so their opinions are based on current facts about the project, as well as to give them ample time with officials to ask questions, make comments or give suggestions.

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Each member of the mayor and council is expected to participate, but other groups — like Hagerstown’s Downtown Alliance — might also be involved, he said.

Zimmerman said people who attend the forum and information sessions will have the opportunity to give written feedback.

The forums would be similar to a public hearing, Zimmerman said, but the idea is to give people an informal way of communicating with elected officials and city staff members.

“It generally provides a little more calmer discussion of the issue,” he said. “It allows people to focus on their specific questions and not have to wait in line for a microphone.”

The council was generally in favor of the idea, and Zimmerman said he would return in a week with firm dates to begin planning for forums and tours. The council talked about the Academy Theatre as a possible location for the forums.

One complaint that has come up with residents is that many believe the city will simply tear down the 80-year-old Municipal Stadium after the new downtown facility is built, Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood said.

That’s not the case, she said, and that gap in communication is an example of why more accurate information and conversations need to happen.

“It hasn’t even been discussed at this table yet, anything that we’ll be doing with Municipal Stadium after the fact,” Haywood said.

And after the “true facts” about the stadium are presented to citizens, “I believe that people’s mind-set would be different with this project,” Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said talks with citizens need to “get very public, very quickly.”

A long-term lease has yet to be signed with the Suns and the decision to move forward with a $9 million municipal bond issue that includes close to $4.5 million for preliminary stadium tasks was tabled until next week because lease terms have not yet been solidified, city council members said.

“We desperately want to sit down now,” Metzner said of the need for public forums. “We’re at a stage now where we have most of the answers. We continuously said that we can’t talk about things that we don’t have answers to. We’ve been getting these lease terms figured out and we have a lot of answers now. We want, first, the public to know what’s going on and then we’re looking for input. We want to do this quickly because we want to get this thing done.”

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