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New makeup of city council could break up plans for stadium deal

November 07, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

There will be differing viewpoints of Hagerstown’s proposed downtown multiuse sports and events center when the new city council is sworn in later this month.

“The current proposal, I’m totally against it,” said Penny Nigh, who totaled the second-most votes, 6,477, with all precincts reporting Tuesday night plus early voting results.

“I think that if anything should be done, it should be at the old location,” she said, referring to Municipal Stadium on East Memorial Boulevard. “I think that we need to rehab that and build that East End up to get it to something that’s going to turn heads for a change.”

Don Munson, the lone Republican to earn a spot on the council, is also against the currently proposed $37 million project, which includes $25 million in unconfirmed grant funding — $15 million from a private donor and a $10 million from the state.

“I took a stand in opposition to the stadium during the campaign; a stadium downtown,” Munson said. “I favor revitalization, rebuilding the stadium where it’s (currently) located ... or some place elsewhere if it’s possible.”

The city’s current proposal places the facility, also referred to as the MUSEC, near the corner of West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue, a location that would require the need to purchase several surrounding properties.

The proposed location has been a major issue for opponents of the project, including many who live nearby. Munson said he’s knocked on the doors of more than 1,000 residents who are “vigorously opposed” to building the MUSEC there.

“I do not support it downtown,” he said. “I’m doing my job of representing the people ... and I’m going to stay firm on it. I haven’t lied to my constituency in the past and I’m not going to start now.”

Barring the final vote counts after absentee and provisional ballots are tabulated, incumbent Democrat Councilmen Lewis C. Metzner and Martin Brubaker, who narrowly leads fellow incumbent William Breichner for the last seat on the council, both continue to support the project as its currently proposed, contingent upon the private donation and securing state funds.

Still undecided in his position on the MUSEC is Democrat Kristin B. Aleshire, who led all council vote-getters with 8,010 votes after Tuesday.

A former city councilman and Washington County commissioner, Aleshire said this general election was a “clear indication” that Hagerstown voters do not wish to see their tax dollars going toward the project.

“It’s hard to pick and choose which pieces of the project don’t work for whatever segment of the public that voted for the candidates in the manner that they did,” he said. “To me, the vote indicates that it is not a significant priority for the expense of the citizen’s public funding.”

Aleshire, who maintains that he isn’t “a pro-stadium or anti-stadium supporter,” said more information still needs to be collected and examined before he could make a decision about the downtown project, including the need to make any lease proposal between the city and Hagerstown Suns public for inspection.

While he supports keeping the team here, moving forward with the project as proposed will depend on finding a “reasonable limit to which that support extends” from the public, Aleshire said.

“I think the proposal as it is currently being presented doesn’t appear to be within those reasonable means,” he said. “I think one of the telling things of that is even with the announcement of this private $15 million contribution ... it didn’t swing the pendulum of public opinion in favor of the project.”

Metzner said that if private and state funding can be secured, the price tag shouldn’t be much of an issue to the new council.

“Discussions will probably center around the location,” he said. “That would be my guess, but I’m more than interested to have the discussion.”

Brubaker said he remains open to all options for a project moving forward, like looking at other locations, as long as it’s affordable for the taxpayer.

“As before, I have to be assured of the private funding and that’s not there yet,” he said. “I believe the current proposal is a good option if we get the private funding.”

Metzner said the Suns have made it “abundantly clear” to the city that they don’t want to play at a renovated or rebuilt Municipal Stadium. He said he believes the anonymous donor would still be on board if they chose to refurbish the 82-year-old ballpark, but the Suns may leave as a result, leaving the only option for the city to be trying to land an independent league team.

Although he’s on the outside looking in at the moment, Breichner also endorses the project as currently proposed. He trails Brubaker by 188 votes for the final council seat with absentee numbers pending.

Democrat David S. Gysberts, a high school guidance counselor in Poolesville, Md., easily defeated incumbent Republican Robert E. Bruchey II to win the race for mayor Tuesday.

While Bruchey was a vocal supporter to the MUSEC project, Gysberts has said publicly that he still needs more information before he could take a position on it.

“I still have a lot of questions I’m waiting to get answers on,” Gysberts said Tuesday night. “I guess that’ll be one of the first big homework assignments that I have for myself, to get caught up.”

In any case, the new administration will begin to decide which direction it would like to go when it is sworn in on Nov. 27.

The two unconfirmed sums of money still hang in the balance as do lease negotiations with the Suns. Team officials have considered moving the club if a lease and deal for a new stadium can’t be forged with the city.

Hagerstown’s mayor and city council members serve four-year terms. The mayor earns a annual salary of $28,000 while council members receive $8,000 a year.

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