Art Callaham: If stadium is to be built, time to begin is now

September 23, 2012|By ART CALLAHAM

This week, I’ve chosen to write about an issue that is on the minds of many readers: the proposed downtown stadium. My opinion is that if we don’t get it approved and started before the city election (Nov. 6), we might not be able to get it done at all. And not getting it done after we recently received a $15 million pledge from a private investor, plus promises from other private investors willing to do most of the project, is a nonstarter.

What’s the holdup? The City Council and mayor are on board. The County Commissioners are on board. Private investors are lined up. So, what’s stopping or slowing getting started?

I’ve been involved with “a” or “the” stadium issue since 1998. Some of my friends can go back to the 1980s in terms of discussions about a new or improved sports facility for our community. 

From my perspective (you are entitled to your own opinion, and I hope you will express it), it just makes sense. All the self-proclaimed “experts” point to examples of stadium projects being less than successful. I choose to point to major successes in Salisbury, Md; Charleston, W.Va.; Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.; Dayton, Ohio; Frisco, Texas; and on and on. Look them up. Minor League Baseball is a huge economic engine for the vast majority of communities where it exists.

Recently, folks have microanalyzed the latest minor league baseball stadium study completed by the Ripken Group. Sure, there are questions to be answered. Heavens, there were questions to be answered in the previous two studies. However, in the three independent studies conducted concerning the possibility of a new stadium in Hagerstown, all three conclude that building a new stadium is a good idea, makes economic sense and is fiscally affordable.  Read the studies if you want facts; they are there.

The arguments against a new stadium, today and in the past, usually center around location and funding. Mostly, these negative arguments cite emotions, conjecture and opinions, at best.

Often the negative comments start or end with “spending too much taxpayer money” or “fly balls will break out windows” or “preserve our ‘historic’ Municipal Stadium” or “the owner isn’t putting up any money or taking a risk.”

You want facts? The recent proposal for a new stadium has $15 million to $20 million dollars of private investment. State tax dollars, if you will, amount to a mere $10 million dollars out of $20 billion to $30 billion in annual state tax expenditures. 

That amount of money ($10 million) is an infinitesimal amount of return to our community from the amount of the taxes paid by Marylanders to the state each year. I believe we deserve it, and if we don’t take it, you’ll not get a check from the state in the form of a rebate because we didn’t. The state will spend the money in another area. 

You want facts? Even a “Mickey Mantle-esque” 600-foot-plus home run, like the one “the Mick” hit in Detroit during the 1960 season, probably won’t fly out of the proposed stadium. If, perchance, one does, the finder would have a nice souvenir.

You want facts? The only thing “historic” about Municipal Stadium might well be the urine stains on the walls in the men’s restrooms — and only if someone historic made the stain. Yes, Municipal Stadium is old, but so am I, and I doubt anyone would label me as historic.

And one final fact. The current owners are putting up significant money.

Arguments for the new stadium usually center on economic development, revitalization and urban renewal. Who’s right? Only future generations will be able to fully answer that question. But I’m sure and certain of one fact: If we do nothing, our community will not have a new stadium.

There was much debate over the new hospital. Had we killed the project, either through referendum or neglect, we would be sitting here today with a 100-year-old antiquated facility. The end result could have been a hospital where 20th-century medical technology would be trying to keep up with 21st-century medical needs. Thank goodness, we did something. Now, let’s do something with a new stadium.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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