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David Hanlin: Downtown stadium site is still the best

June 12, 2013|By DAVID HANLIN

I have previously written in support of locating the new stadium in downtown Hagerstown.  Readers have asked why a suburban county resident should feel strongly about this proposal. After all, the City Council seems to have rejected it and has begun to examine at least three alternative sites — the old hospital and two adjacent to Municipal Stadium. The little bit of information about these sites that has been made public has not changed my mind.

For those who don’t know about this initiative, the stadium included a new parking deck. It was designed so both parts complemented the Arts and Entertainment District.  The parking deck would support not only the stadium, but also commercial, educational, and residential activities. It was compatible with virtually every public study and plan, including one that proposed a greenway park to link the Arts & Entertainment District to City Park.

My continued support for the downtown site is based upon the second Ripken Report. This report stated clearly that the downtown site was superior for business development to any of the alternatives. This means the downtown site is superior when it comes to creation of jobs and generating additional tax revenue. 

Last year, as now, Washington County had very high unemployment. One estimate put job creation during construction at 80-100 jobs. The downtown site is closest to being “shovel ready” and getting people to work.

The original Ripken Report anticipated that like other cities with new urban minor league baseball stadiums, businesses and stores would be expected to move into downtown, drawn by the crowds and the promise of a successful business. Ultimately, market-rate residences would be developed and occupied, especially as young adults seek to live near work and friends.  This means more people working in the area.

The stadium would be a welcome addition to a list of gems shown to prospective executives considering moving their businesses to Washington County. These gems include USMH, Maryland Theatre, Barbara Ingram School for Fine Arts, and the new Washington County Free Library. Visitors should not leave with the lasting impression of boarded up windows and empty buildings.  A positive impression will go much further to attracting new businesses and their jobs.

Locating the stadium here is the fastest, best way to reverse the continued deterioration by drawing people to downtown.  The city can put in place all programs it wants, but there needs to be people who want to be there.  Drawing people there will attract businesses seeking to serve them, but these businesses will put people to work who in turn will pay income taxes which partly go to the County. 

The Ripken Report clearly demonstrated that property tax revenue would increase.  Additional property tax revenue generated by appreciated properties would far outstrip the cost of paying the debt of construction. Viewed as an investment, this is a winner for local governments. City and county government need some winners, at least on the revenue side. The city council has already discussed a possible tax rate increase for FY2015. The County Commissioners are experiencing the same pressure.  But tax rate increases hurt individuals and businesses. I believe we need to avoid raising tax rates. The downtown site does a better job of generating additional property tax revenue than the alternatives.

So there is considerable potential property tax revenue in those vacant buildings.  We don’t need tax rate increases.  We need to extract the potential tax revenue from those vacant and deteriorated buildings.  Otherwise taxpayers continue to pay more than we should.  We need to do this quickly.  

Many critics claim that the stadium will have no stimulative effect on revitalization of downtown. The Ripken Report repeatedly says otherwise.  Last year, local investors seemed poised to do exactly as Ripken expected. A series of projects were being discussed privately that would have remade downtown. For the first time in my memory there was confidence that downtown was the place to invest. Taking a multi-million dollar risk was beginning to be seen as worthwhile. As a result of city council seeming to abandon the downtown site, exploring other sites, and then dancing with the Sora Group, these discussions slowed.

Why would I not want to favor downtown? The downtown site is superior in terms of creating more jobs. It is superior in terms of generating more income and property tax revenue for local governments.  Realizing these tax revenues will allow local governments to minimize or forestall tax rate increases for the rest of us and may lead to future property tax cuts. To ignore these factors is to dismiss those taxpayers in Washington County who want the Suns to stay, see jobs created, and want stability in property tax rates.

Since the Suns' Opening Day, City Council has been operating on borrowed time in getting around to making a decision.  My fear is that it is too late.


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

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