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Newspaper: If a new multipurpose stadium is built in Va. town, Suns will move there

Majority owner says working with Hagerstown has 'been like square-dancing in snow skis'

June 06, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

Reports that Fredericksburg, Va., may be making a play to attract the Hagerstown Suns reached a fever pitch Thursday, when Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn was quoted in a Virginia newspaper saying he’s going “full-speed ahead” with moving the team there.

Quinn’s comments appeared in The Free Lance-Star, which quoted him as saying he would move the team if the Fredericksburg City Council approves construction of a new multipurpose baseball stadium.

In an email Thursday afternoon, Quinn told The Herald-Mail that he has not yet given up on getting something done in Hagerstown, “However, it’s been like square-dancing in snow skis.”

Hagerstown Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, who earlier this week hinted that the city might be close to forging its own deal to keep the Suns, said he was not surprised by the news.

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The Suns have made it “abundantly clear” that they no longer wish to play in 82-year-old Municipal Stadium, he said.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that that Suns are seeking somewhere else to play,” Metzner said.

But does Quinn still want to try to work out a deal in Hagerstown? That’s the big question on the minds of Metzner and other city officials.

“We have to find out whether Mr. Quinn wants to sit down and attempt to negotiate a lease with us immediately,” he said.

The Suns’ owner might decide that he wants to talk exclusively with Fredericksburg or negotiate with both areas simultaneously to find the best deal for his team, Metzner said.

As for the prospect of relocating to Fredericksburg, Quinn said he likes the progressive attitude and historic features of the area, “similar to what Hagerstown could be.”

“It offers something for everyone, with a positive atmosphere,” Quinn said in his email, noting that the larger population and easy access to Interstate 95 also pique his interest.

What’s it going to take to keep the Suns in Hagerstown?

“Fredericksburg (to) not follow through on a soon-to-be mutually agreed upon timeline for stadium approvals, and the City of Hagerstown would need to approve a mutually agreed upon lease and agree to construction and finance of a new stadium,” Quinn said in his email.

Determining a site to build a new stadium in Hagerstown has gone largely undiscussed since the consultant Ripken Design unveiled three new proposed sites, but city officials have said that more would be known by the end of the month.

The sites outlined by Ripken Design include the former Washington County Hospital site, as well as two locations adjacent to Municipal Stadium on East Memorial Boulevard.

The previously considered downtown site near the corner of West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue has never been entirely ruled out, either.

Metzner declined to say if city officials have selected a site to build the new stadium, but said the previous funding model set forth when a $30 million facility downtown was considered could still provide the framework to pay for it.

That funding model includes the city and county putting in $8 million each, plus about $10 million from the state and private investments, including $3 million-plus from the Suns in addition to lease payments of about $300,000 annually.

“I will be highly disappointed if the citizens don’t have a handle on what’s going on with the Hagerstown Suns by the end of this month,” Metzner said. “A lot of it will have to do with What Mr. Quinn has to say.”

Private-sector support has long been the biggest uncertainty for constructing a new stadium in Hagerstown, but Metzner said the signs are there that investors are waiting in the wings.

“The word I have is that there are absolutely private investors sitting out there very interested in what’s going on,” he said, noting that there are those who want to make “ancillary investments” in new development if the city follows through on a stadium deal.

Not all Hagerstown officials are as optimistic that Quinn and the Suns will continue to play ball.

“Let him go,” Councilwoman Penny Nigh said. “I have no problem with that. I’m tired of the games. I really am tired of the games.”

The Suns could open the 2015 season in a brand new facility costing as much as $30 million if Fredericksburg officials follow through with the deal, according to The Free Lance-Star.

The Suns have provided the city with a 30-year lease proposal that would include annual payments of $105,000 and agreed to split revenues from naming rights of the stadium, estimated to be about $200,000 annually, the newspaper reported.

Plans call for a 5,000-seat stadium on about 22 acres in Fredericksburg’s Celebrate Virginia South development, with the Suns putting up $3 million for land acquisition, although the city would be responsible for floating the $30 million in bonds to build it, the newspaper reported.

A low-level Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, the Suns’ player-development contract with the parent club expires at the end of the 2014 season.

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