City's stadium proposal promising if numbers hold

November 04, 2012

The Herald-Mail has avoided taking an editorial position on whether to build a new multiuse stadium in downtown Hagerstown because, as proposed, the project would consume much of The Herald-Mail Co.’s parking lot.

We know that readers might think that any support was rooted in a desire to sell the parking lot and make money, or that opposition was rooted in desire to keep the parking lot as is.

To date, the company has not received an offer for its parking lot, but we will wait no longer to weigh in on the proposal to purchase and demolish several properties, and, in their place, build a stadium, a plaza and a roughly 400-space parking deck.

We support the continued exploration of this project with the way the numbers are coming into focus. It’s too early in the process to grant unconditional approval of the project, but we are intrigued and want to know more.

Cost estimates for property acquisition and construction put the cost at $37 million, with funding expected to come in the form of $15 million from a still-unnamed private donor, $10 million from the state, $1 million from more private donations and $11 million of city bond money.

As we see it, the key figures in this project are $26 million — donations plus state money — and $22 million — the estimated construction cost for the stadium alone. If those numbers hold, the stadium can be built without dipping into local public coffers.

While we can dispute how much a new stadium will help downtown Hagerstown, we are confident that it won’t hurt the downtown. And we also recognize that no one is offering to pump $26 million of nonlocal money into downtown for any other purpose. (The people who make the argument that state money is still tax money are correct. However, Hagerstown not taking it would only mean that some other Maryland community would be the recipient of that money. It would not go unspent and our taxes would not decrease.)

Meanwhile, local tax money and leftover donations can cover the cost of the parking deck, along with tearing down a mix of old and blighted buildings along Antietam Street and replacing them with a plaza.

Again, while the revitalizing effects of a new stadium are highly debatable, the construction of a new parking deck and the demolition of condemned buildings can only move downtown in the right direction.

If the city only proposed building a stadium with local money, that would be a bad gambit. If the donations and the state contribution do not materialize, then the proposal should be shelved.

As it stands, we support further consideration of this bold idea, and would only ask the opposition for a good alternative plan to infuse millions of outside money into the city. Doing nothing is not a strategy.

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