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David Hanlin: Film festival was great

final spring for Suns?

April 17, 2013|By DAVID HANLIN

Spring is finally here. The birds are singing. Flowers are blooming. People are getting outside more and more. Warming air and longer days brighten spirits. Little League is now in full swing and Thursday was opening day for the Suns.  

Thursday was also the opening of the Maryland International Film Festival. I hope my friends in the Suns Fan Club understand, but we opted for the Film Festival. The feature film that evening was “Argo.” The movie tells the story of Tony Mendez and his successful rescue of six American diplomats from Tehran, Iran, in January 1980. Tony is a true American hero and a Washington County resident. I have met Tony a couple of times, so I feel a bit of a connection to him, even if it only flows one way. I wanted to be there.

The Maryland Theatre was almost full. I think many people there felt the same pseudo connection to the “Argo” story. And the crowd was not disappointed. After the showing, Tony and his wife Jonna answered questions. As former spies, they could not address all questions for “contractual reasons.” The highlight came when festival organizers surprised everyone by announcing that henceforth the grand prize of the competition would be named the Mendez Award. It was quite a night.

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I did miss opening night for the Suns. Unfortunately, it might be the last opening day for the Suns in Hagerstown. I sense it might be the last we see of any major effort to revitalize downtown, too. Building a third parking deck or supporting the expansion of USMH or The Maryland Theatre is not sufficient to get the job done.

Last spring many people were excited about the prospects for a new stadium in downtown. I knew of people across the country who were following our city’s plans and opined that we would be the envy of minor league baseball. As part of that project, Hagerstown would have ended up with a new parking deck, removed blighted buildings, upgraded an important utility line, and brought thousands of people downtown. But while the Hagerstown City Council never formally rejected the downtown site for a new stadium, it does seem to be dying a slow death.

And I am now very pessimistic that we can keep our team. One need only look so far as city council’s recent efforts to put together a firm proposal for the Board of Education or over the location of a dog park to see that coming to a consensus about a new stadium is problematic. To their credit, on April 23, the city council should receive two presentations that might offer a window of hope. Sora Group is to make its report to the council on their efforts and ideas for redevelopment projects, which should include a stadium. And Ripken Design Group is scheduled to present the results of their study of additional sites for a stadium.

Should one site emerge as the consensus location, many more studies will have to be done.  Completing all these studies for the downtown site took the city almost a year. Until most of these studies are done, the city likely will be unable to make the kind of commitment Suns owner Bruce Quinn is expecting; not in a year, but now. If the city decides to take the lead, then it might be even longer.

And Quinn has options. Not only is Winchester still in the running, but Fredericksburg, Va., seems to be interested in offering our team a stadium deal. The article in the April 10 issue of Baseball Digest reads, “Enter Bruce Quinn, whose Suns ownership group is seeking a replacement for Municipal Stadium. Their first choice is staying in Hagerstown at a new downtown ballpark, but lacking that, they’ll look anywhere in the area.”  

The downtown site is nearly ready to go and Quinn seems to prefer it. But it doesn’t matter.  Three members of City Council, each for their own reasons, are firmly against the downtown site. Hagerstown is already on borrowed time to bring the issue of a stadium to closure.

I look forward to next April and a spectacular Maryland Film Festival. However, I fear our Suns will be celebrating their springtime event elsewhere. At a minimum, with the departure of the Suns, 150 full- and part-time jobs and $140,000 in admissions tax revenue for the City of Hagerstown is likely to disappear.

As successful as the Maryland Film Festival will ultimately become, it cannot replace those jobs, tax revenue, or local spending we will lose with the Suns departure.

Join me at the ball park to watch the Suns this season. It might be their last. And next year be sure to take in the Maryland International Film Festival. It promises to be even bigger and better next year.

David Hanlin is a Hagerstown resident. His email address is davidhanlin54@gmail.com.

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