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Without downtown benefits, new stadium is a tough sell

April 29, 2013

When plans began to circulate last year for a new multiuse stadium in downtown Hagerstown, the goal was twofold. First, the stadium would make it possible to keep Minor League Baseball in Hagerstown. Second, it would be an economic engine for the city.

To some, the second goal was perhaps more important than the first.

Located just a block from the Potomac Street Arts and Entertainment District, the proposed stadium would have added juice to the city’s core. No one felt the stadium could be a savior on its own, but the energy created by the project certainly would have jumpstarted other downtown projects.

In addition, this location would have been an attractive bridge between two of the city’s most important assets: The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and The Maryland Theatre.

The Herald-Mail was willing to support this site for the greater good, even though it would have cost us much of our parking lot and been a general disruption in the near term. (There has been much discussion of contamination on the downtown site; it is hard, however, to conceive of any urban property that will not require some degree of soil mitigation, so we believe these fears have been vastly overstated.)

Our thinking then as now was that this site made the best sense as an urban renewal project, as well as a sporting venue. But we would say this about any downtown site, not just one that has a direct bearing on our property.

And that is the key point when considering three new sites Ripken Designs has reviewed for a new stadium. All are in the city’s East End on grounds that are more or less between the old hospital site and the existing Municipal Stadium.

Our central problem with all three is that they do not appear to help the downtown in any meaningful way. They are too far from the arts district to imagine that anyone would stroll back and forth between the two, for a pregame meal or postgame music and a drink.

This means that a multimillion-dollar stadium likely would be a baseball-only proposition, and that doesn’t seem like a good deal for taxpayers.

We do understand that the stadium would be used for other events. And perhaps the city has some as-yet unveiled grand design that would tie the stadium in to an East End economic development plan independent of the downtown.

In concert with other initiatives a new stadium makes sense. Standing alone, it becomes far more difficult to justify. And after reviewing these new site possibilities, it’s hard to conclude that the city didn’t have it right the first time.

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