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Parasiliti: Stadium talks need to take different ARCC

April 28, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI
  • Bob Parasiliti
Joe Crocetta

History is like a prison.

It can be time served to rehabilitate or a lifelong confinement.

That’s because in everyday life, history is called experience. What’s learned in the past can either set you free or can be used to throw away the key after locking you up.

Those responses either promote changes or create habitual offenders.

The brave embrace these opportunities. Meanwhile, the timid remain shackled in a cell of complacency. 

For more than 20 years, the city of Hagerstown has been mired in complacency.

Throughout its contemporary history, this town has been sentenced to a term of gradual decay. It complacently sits on the dock of the bay, watching the tide of progress roll away.

And in the process, the city has lost its identity, any vibrant lifestyle and all quality of life that sustains its citizens, invites visitors and creates employment opportunities.

For most of that time, “the stadium issue” has been in the middle of the ebb and flow of many debate.

Is a minor league baseball stadium needed?

If so, is it a public or private sector project?

Is baseball — and the identity it brings — important to this town?

What is the cause and effect?

Where’s the financing? How can it be obtained, who provides it and how does it get paid back?

The economy is down; will it resolve or further hinder the city’s woes?

Is this the right vehicle to spur progress or will it become a huge blunder?

Is this only about baseball or are there other benefits to be reaped over time?

This is where two of the biggest weapons in the battle of bravery vs. complacency should be introduced.

They are imagination and vision.

Imagination provides a mental image to figure out to settle debates. Vision is the concept formed by imagination.

So this is where Hagerstown and Washington County sit, waiting for an action — any action — to finish a debate that is old enough to shave, drink, drive and be drafted. 

And as history would have it, it isn’t the first time they’ve been in this situation.

It was 26 years ago when another facility was the controversial, hot button issue.

The then-Hagerstown Junior College was working to build a new gym. The plan was to get a new facility before changing the old one into a high-tech center.

The project got two blessings — a $3 million county bond and a $1 million investment from the state. But, as it usually happens with these projects, the projected cost was much lower than the actual expense.

HJC officials continuously marched to County Commissioner meetings, asking for added funding. The overages forced much rhetoric and many comments from the commission. The facility — labeled as a gym or athletic complex — had jumped from a $5 million price tag to a nearly $7 million project.

The commissioners hesitantly granted the money, worrying of how the bumps in contributions would impact the local economy. They shook a stern finger and groused at HJC’s officials but decided to trust a little imagination and vision for once.

Over the course of construction, that gym was repackaged and rebranded.

It became more than just a basketball court for HJC’s teams. Besides the floor and seating, it included an indoor track, a wellness center, classrooms and office space.

All of a sudden, the gym became known as an “athletic and recreation center.”

When it was dedicated in 1988, it received its official name — the Athletic, Recreation and Community Center, now known as the ARCC.

Now, nearly 25 years later, that facility is the closest thing this area has to a hub of activity.

Not only does it house classes and HCC athletic events, it is one thing that actually enhances local quality of life.

The “gym” is also the home for county recreation leagues, high school indoor track meets and casual fitness walkers. It’s the site for flower and home improvement shows as well as job fairs. The state unified bocce tournament, a regional prep basketball showcase and high school graduations are hosted in the facility.

It has become a true, multi-use facility and an example of bucking a history of complacency.

Now, some of the names have changed. So has the project and the amounts of funds needed, but the basic issue is the same.

Maybe, with some repackaging, the powers that be could find some imagination and vision needed to make a decision for or against this present issue.

Instead of mulling the “stadium issue,” maybe imagine it as a revitalization project to create interest in a slumping city that happens to include a ballpark.

Think about amenities — like maybe a stage in center field, a wide concourse and a community center building — that would make it a place of constant use for outdoor concerts, graduations and festivals to attract more than just baseball fans. 

Something of that magnitude might stoke the interest of private investors.

Something like this will take keen imagination and focused vision, while weighing past experiences to execute. No matter the decision, there is so much at stake for this area.

But here’s the problem. The 20-year shot clock is nearing zero. Time is running out. All the feet dragging have created a canyon.

Sometimes leadership carries calculated and unpopular risk.

No matter what, the decision will become part of history and won’t take any prisoners.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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