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Stadium questions loom in Hagerstown, Annapolis

If a majority of new city council opposes the latest stadium plan, question about state money could be moot

December 02, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • This is an updated 3-D rendering of the proposed downtown Multi-Use Sports and Events Center. This drawing reflects the street-level view incorporating the most recent orientation of home plate.
Submitted photo

When Hagerstown’s mayor requested state funding for a proposed multiuse stadium earlier this year, the reply wasn’t rosy.

In August, T. Eloise Foster, the state’s budget secretary, wrote back to then-Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, saying the request will be considered. But she also cautioned that money is tight and it will be “extremely difficult” in the current fiscal climate to guarantee funding for many worthwhile projects.

Foster didn’t specifically address the likelihood of the stadium project getting money, but her letter illustrates one of the uncertainties attached to a transformative plan for part of Hagerstown’s core.

City officials are counting on $10 million from the state as an essential piece of a $37 million project.

The state money is only a request. Gov. Martin O’Malley will provide the answer near the end of January, when he unveils his proposed state budget for the next fiscal year.

The Maryland General Assembly then will get about two months to shape the spending plan before approving a budget. If O’Malley inserts some or all of the $10 million in his capital budget, the legislature could keep, trim or eliminate the money.

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Locally, a lot could change, much sooner.

Most notably, the new city council, which was sworn in Nov. 26, could decide to kill the project.

Two incumbents who supported the stadium project — Lewis C. Metzner and Martin E. Brubaker — retained their seats in the Nov. 6 election.

Two other newly elected council members — Donald F. Munson and Penny M. Nigh — are opposed, leaving Kristin B. Aleshire as a possible deciding swing vote.

The previous council, like Bruchey, backed the project, as long as the financial components worked out.
David S. Gysberts, who defeated Bruchey in the election, hasn’t committed to the project.

The largest funding segment of the $37 million plan is a $15 million pledge from a private donor whose identity hasn’t been publicly revealed.

The proposal is to place a stadium at West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue, build a parking deck and demolish several blighted buildings along West Antietam Street.

A series of owners of the Hagerstown Suns baseball team have repeatedly said the current ballpark, Municipal Stadium, is outdated and wearing out.

If a majority of the new council opposes the latest stadium plan, the question about state money could be moot.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said the new mayor and council haven’t had a chance to talk about the project. That discussion is expected soon, although the topic isn’t on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

Zimmerman said Bruchey explained the project and funding needs to officials in O’Malley’s office in a meeting in June and another meeting in the fall.

That interaction was summarized in an August 2012 city status report on the project: “Mayor Bruchey, along with other community representatives, met with the governor’s chief of staff and chief legislative officer in late June to request $10 million in state funding support. The governor’s office indicated the city’s request was reasonable and consistent with the state’s involvement with other minor league stadium projects. The city’s goal is to have the $10 million included in the governor’s capital budget with this funding ultimately approved by the state legislature.”

In Foster’s August letter to Bruchey, she wrote: “Since Fiscal Year 2008, the state has provided nearly $257 million in capital funding for projects in Washington County.” She listed: $52 million for the construction and renovation of public schools, nearly $25 million for new facilities at Hagerstown Community College and $12.4 million for a new state police barrack.

“While Governor O’Malley expects to continue to support such worthy projects, the state’s current fiscal condition will make it extremely difficult to provide funding for many of the projects for which the governor receives requests,” Foster’s letter says.

When looking at requests, the state will evaluate “anticipated costs, matching commitments, goals of the project and the project’s relationship to the state’s five-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP),” the letter says.

When a Herald-Mail reporter asked O’Malley in April about possible state funding for a Hagerstown stadium, he said, “It could be a great idea, bringing people back to the City Center. What, hopefully, the people of Hagerstown and Washington County will work on is the consensus with their business community and bring that consensus to Annapolis.”

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