The City of Hagerstown will host tours of Municipal Stadium next week to provide the public with a first-hand look at the reasons why the renovation of the 82-year-old ballpark has been ruled out in favor of a new downtown stadium.
The tours, which will be led by city and Hagerstown Suns officials, are scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 19, rain or shine, starting at 6 p.m.
A public information meeting is tentatively planned for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center to offer the public a chance to hear up-to-date facts about the proposed project as well as to ask questions of elected officials and city staff.
Subsequent meetings or public hearings might be called after the initial meeting to further discuss the project as more details can be made available, city officials said Tuesday during the Hagerstown City Council’s work session at City Hall.
As for Municipal Stadium, flooding and drainage have been an issue at the ballpark for years, Suns general manager Bill Farley said.
“The field does not drain,” City Engineer Rodney Tissue said. “Unlike a lot of the modern fields where you can have a rainstorm during the day and still be able to play that night, that’s not the case at Municipal Stadium. Rain is a significant factor there.”
The stadium’s clubhouses, outdoor food vendor areas and a rock ledge in left field that makes it nearly impossible to level the outfield are also major concerns for the low-level Class A Suns, as well as its parent Major League Baseball club, the Washington Nationals, Farley said.
“From just about every aspect, it’s one of the worst venues in professional baseball, and we’re talking about over 160 facilities, perhaps up to 200 facilities around the country,” Suns minority owner Tony Dahbura said after Tuesday’s city council work session. “It’s at the bottom of the barrel in virtually every category that’s measurable and documented.
“It also makes it difficult operationally, and for the fans,” he said. “When there are more than about 1,800 fans in the ballpark, the quality of service degrades because of the facilities, the concession stands and the way things are configured, really from the 1930s. And everybody suffers. It’s just not a good arrangement.”
Organized opposition to the city’s proposed $30 million downtown multiuse sports and events center came forward Aug. 28 with more than 900 signatures of people who do not want the new facility built near the corner of West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue. The opposition spurred city council members to look for ways to offer the facts on the project’s progress thus far and to attempt to create an open dialogue between city officials and the public.
Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he urges people to attend the meeting Oct. 9 with their questions ready to go. Information hopefully will be available before the meeting to allow citizens to come prepared, city officials said.
“Having the same question presented to us 30 separate times doesn’t benefit anyone,” Metzner said. “I think it’s much more important that every question that everyone has is heard and gets responded to more so than everybody being heard.”
Councilman Martin Brubaker said he has been supportive of holding public hearings on the proposed stadium all along. He encouraged citizens to “listen and not prematurely take a position on it” until more complete information is released.
“As soon as we finalize business terms and other parts of the financing of this stadium, and as soon as we are able to go forward with other critical information as far as revenue sources, we should announce it and we should have as much public information out there as possible,” Brubaker said.
The city is currently in the final stages of forging a long-term lease with the Suns, according to officials on both sides of negotiations, but no official announcements have been made.