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Suns' future could be out of Hagerstown's hands

Munson: 'Everything depends on what's going on down in Fredericksburg'

June 20, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

As a decision on a site to build a new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns still hangs in the balance, one city councilman believes little can be resolved locally until Fredericksburg, Va., officials make a decision of their own about the team.

“At this point, the site’s not the issue” here in Hagerstown, Councilman Donald F. Munson said Thursday.

“Everything depends on what’s going on down in Fredericksburg,” he said. “That’s my view of it at this point.”

Munson said the interest shown by Fredericksburg officials in attracting  Hagerstown’s minor league baseball team is a serious concern to him. The next few months will be a matter of seeing how things shake out in the Virginia city 55 miles south of Washington, D.C, he said.

Still, Munson said he wants to do everything possible to keep the Suns in Hagerstown, specifically in a location that would provide the most economic benefit for the city.

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“I don’t just want a ball team. I want a Suns team, some place in Hagerstown,” he said. “But I also want to see it connected to Hagerstown in such a way that it’s going to do the most for Hagerstown.”

Site selection has gone largely undiscussed in public session among members of the Hagerstown City Council, but Mayor David S. Gysberts has said that mid-July is the target to settle on what location is preferred to construct a multiuse ballpark for the low-level Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

Councilmen Martin E. Brubaker and Lewis C. Metzner — both members of the previous administration that initially presented the downtown stadium concept — still support constructing a multiuse ballpark and parking deck costing about $30 million near the corner of West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue.

“I’ve just always thought that if you’re going to invest that amount of money, that downtown is the only site,” Brubaker said. “That’s what I’ve said consistently.”

A third parking deck has been discussed as something that is needed in downtown Hagerstown, and building the ballpark with an accompanying deck could help other City Center businesses in addition to serving the multipurpose facility, Brubaker said.

“I don’t think that the other sites can do that,” he said.

In addition to the downtown site, which has never been publicly ruled out by city leaders, three other locations near 83-year-old Municipal Stadium on East Memorial Boulevard have been floated recently.

The other sites being considered include the former Washington County Hospital site that has sat idle for some time, as well as two locations near the Suns’ current ballpark that could utilize adjacent properties and/or a portion of Hager Park.

When asked which site he prefers, Munson said he’s leaning toward the old hospital site.

However, the councilman said, “it makes no sense to pay a ton of money” on site surveys and environmental testing there “when the ball is in the court of Fredericksburg.”

Earlier this week, Gysberts said he’s recently met with Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said Tuesday that he was unaware of such a meeting, noting that it appeared some behind-the-scenes talks were in progress about the team’s future in town.

Aleshire and Councilwoman Penny Nigh have both been vocally opposed to the downtown stadium site, with Aleshire preferring an adjacent tract in Hager Park, and Nigh holding firm to her desire to see Municipal Stadium renovated at its current home.

Nigh disagrees that Hager Park should be sacrificed for new construction.

“If you need to add on to it, then you need to look at the properties around it,” she said, like the Spring Works industrial property to the west. “... It can be worked around.”

Aleshire did not respond to a telephone message for this story Thursday.

Earlier this month, the Fredericksburg City Council voted to spend up to $50,000 to evaluate a proposal to bring a minor league baseball team to the city located along Interstate 95.

The Suns are considering moving to the city if the two parties can agree to terms to build a new stadium there.

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