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Prospects dim for proposed new stadium in downtown Hagerstown

December 04, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — With each passing day, the proposal to build a multiuse sports and events center in downtown Hagerstown continues to fade.

The city’s $37 million stadium project has progressed thus far on the contingency of receiving $15 million from an anonymous donor, but that doesn’t appear like it’s going to happen, Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said during the council’s meeting Tuesday.

“The $15 million that we have been promised is just that — it has always been just that, a promise,” he said. “It is not here. I have no reason to believe that it’s ever going to be here.”

Metzner said the entire process, spanning the better part of a year, has been a “tortuous, long, hard effort on a lot of levels” for the council and city staff alike.

A draft agreement with the donor, who has still not been announced publicly, called for the money to be transferred into a local bank by the end of October and then into an escrow account to the city by the end of November, Metzner said.

Neither has happened.

“The keystone of this whole thing has been the commitment of a $15 million donation,” he said. “That is a very complicated and rather confidential issue dealing with this particular donor. But the simple fact is the money is not here. The money was supposed to have been here.”

Metzner said the past administration was “100 percent” behind the proposed stadium if the funding sources materialized, but that obviously hasn’t taken place as once planned.

“Clearly, the driver of this vehicle was the (previous) mayor (Robert E. Bruchey II),” he said. “There is no question about it. He drove this. He drove it hard.”

And without the $15 million or another “significant seven-figure contribution,” it’s pointless to even ask state officials for the $10 million that is in the city’s preliminary funding formula for the project, he added.

“I think it’s time for people to understand that unless substantial private money comes forward, there is nowhere to go with any of this,” Metzner said, pointing out that the city is nowhere closer to receiving the private donation than they were eight months ago. “... But to continue to move forward with a project without any funding source whatsoever just does not seem to make sense. And I think it’s time that this government understand it, the public understand it, and that the Hagerstown Suns understand it and move in a different direction and see what we can do.”

Metzner’s comments came after Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire brought up the issue of transparency — or lack thereof — throughout the whole stadium process, specifically related to longterm lease negotiations with the Suns and the private donor.

Aleshire said he thinks the city needs to make public the proposed 20-year lease city staff have been crafting to make the Hagerstown Suns the primary tenant of the facility.

“A lot of folks want to know where I stand on the issue ... if the $15 million is not secured by the city by Jan. 1, then I have no interest in talking about this project in downtown any further,” he said.

Speaking after Metzner, Councilman Martin E. Brubaker pointed out that the reason why the previous council never approved any major contracts, bond issues or property acquisitions was because the funding was never guaranteed.

“We didn’t take any irrevocable steps,” he said.

Several council members still express a desire to try to keep the Suns — Mayor David Gysberts said it would be a “great loss” for the community if they left — but without a large private donation, even renovating Municipal Stadium would likely be an impossible task.

Metzner said the biggest decision at this point is what the minor league club wants to do.

“They’ve indicated that they won’t play at Municipal Stadium and we have no other venue for them to play at,” he said. “So they’re either going to come back to us and say ‘Listen, let’s see if we can do this, this or this,’ or they’re going to tell us they’ll give us 90 days notice when they find another place to play and move on.”

The city voted last month to extend its lease with the club to play at Municipal Stadium for two more years, with a clause allowing either party to void it with at least 90 days notice.

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