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Hagerstown eyes two more stadium prospects

City looking at current site of Municipal Stadium as well as former Washington County Hospital site

February 05, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

With an eye toward a major citywide redevelopment effort, Hagerstown officials Tuesday discussed the possibility of bringing back Ripken Design to examine the feasibility of two additional locations for a potential stadium project.

If approved by the five-member council later this month, Ripken Design would come back and expand its initial study to include the current site of Municipal Stadium as well as the former Washington County Hospital site, located toward the city’s East End.

“It’s clear that there has been a great opposition to the downtown site,” City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said. “And that leaves us with two choices: Do we just walk away from professional baseball in Hagerstown or do we say ‘Let’s take another look and see if there are alternative sites.’”

Ripken officials developed and presented a feasibility study and market analysis for the city’s previously eyed downtown multiuse stadium project last year, which has since lost steam under the new administration.

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“We had one mayor leading the charge for a downtown stadium, and we have another mayor who’s ... trying to look at alternative sites and I think the council is very supportive in those actions,” Metzner said.

Ripken Design projects a turnaround time of approximately 30 to 45 days to complete the study, which would cost $11,250, according to a proposal submitted to the city.

Just like the previous report on the downtown site, the study would take into account key factors of both sites that could affect a stadium’s overall feasibility, like acreage, points of access, parking, walkability, visibility, traffic flow, sustainability and site conditions that may inhibit or improve development.

The study also would provide an analysis of a proposed stadium’s economic impact at the new locations and a comparison to the findings at the downtown site, the proposal states.

Councilmen Martin E. Brubaker and Donald F. Munson joined Metzner in support of bringing the Ripken group back.

Councilwoman Penny Nigh said she still feels “edgy” toward the Ripken group, and she would rather see Sora Development, the real estate development firm that has expressed interest in doing an urban renewal project in the city, to be brought in to handle the cost of the study.

Meritus Health, which owns of the old hospital site, has been working with consultants for about 10 months on an independent redevelopment plan to create a new eastern “gateway” into the city.

Metzner said he supports getting the Meritus consultants and other interested parties in those projects involved in stadium discussions as well, saying all plans need to be “intertwined” and jointly considered.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said the area near the current ballpark on East Memorial Boulevard presents the best opportunity for overall redevelopment, with the city also looking to tear down the former Municipal Electric Light Plant that borders on the Antietam Creek.

Other adjacent properties to the 82-year-old stadium would lend themselves well to a redevelopment project, he said.

However, Hagerstown Suns officials have said that the current stadium site is not an option for a renovation or new construction.

Outside of the potential site, the largest unknown for council members moving forward is how the project could be funded.

Aleshire said he would support limiting the city’s contribution to $3 million toward a new stadium, in conjunction with $3 million from Washington County to make up the local share of debt service.

With that $6 million, the city could also request $6 million from the state and $6 million from the Suns for an $18 million project, Aleshire suggested.

Munson said the Ripken Design study would add credibility to any request for funding from the county Board of Commissioners and the state.

For the downtown project, the county had required that a study be completed to show the potential economic impact and rate of return on investment, something the state would likely require as well, officials said.

“I think this is something the mayor has been interested in doing and ... I’m going to support that, especially at the cost that we’re getting it at,” Brubaker said.

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