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Vice chairman of EDC says agency should take a stand in trying to preserve baseball in Hagerstown

July 11, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

In 1981, the Washington County Board of Commissioners faced a great debate, one that ultimately resulted in a 3-2 vote to bring affiliated minor-league baseball to Hagerstown.

The great debate continues today — except now the issue has shifted to whether the city and county want to retain the Hagerstown Suns by constructing a new stadium.

With no light at the end of the tunnel in Hagerstown, Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn is talking with officials in Fredericksburg, Va., in the hope of a forging a deal that would result in a new home for his club, a low-level Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

Hagerstown officials still need to agree on a location to build a new multimillion-dollar, multiuse facility and finish working through the terms of a long-term lease with the team.

Many have argued that building a stadium would be a catalyst for economic development. And although some residents don’t think the taxpayer-supported investment is worth it, others are looking at the bigger picture.

One of those is Ron Bowers, vice chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, who said Thursday that the county-funded agency should take a stand in trying to preserve baseball in Hagerstown and support the construction of a new stadium.

“But in locating the stadium, a stadium should be far more than just a stadium,” Bowers said. “The businesses, the accessory uses that would go around the stadium would far outweigh the cost by putting a lot of land, major businesses on (the) tax rolls. And that’s something we have to look at.

“Too much emphasis is being placed on just a stadium,” he said.

Bowers’ comments came during the EDC’s monthly meeting. He suggested that the EDC draft a letter to Quinn, expressing the EDC’s support of the Suns and keeping a slice of America’s pastime in the Hub City.

“I am a firm believer that a very sincere letter to Bruce Quinn should be compiled, put together, formulated and hand-carried to Mr. Quinn,” Bowers said. “He’s a business person that I think has earned respect for what he’s done.”

The EDC’s executive committee agreed to meet Monday to begin drafting the letter, which would have to be presented to the county commissioners, who oversee the volunteer EDC board, before it is given to Quinn.

County Commissioner William B. McKinley said care must be taken in drafting the letter so it doesn’t appear to be a plan set forth by the commissioners.

“One of the things we don’t want to do is interfere with the city of Hagerstown, and we don’t want a letter to be construed as the commissioners are in favor of a stadium under any conditions ... because that would not be the case, in my opinion,” said McKinley, who does support building a new stadium to keep the team.

McKinley, an ex-officio member of the EDC, said he preferred the downtown site when the commissioners voted to offer an indirect contribution of $400,000-a-year for two decades as part of the previous plan for building near the corner of West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue.

It may be time to revisit that plan, he said.

“When that kind of fell through, obviously the commissioners’ support went away with the idea of the stadium, and now that kind of needs to be resurrected,” McKinley said. “... “If (the city comes) back with a plan that provides economic development for Hagerstown, that provides a multipurpose scenario for the stadium, I’d be perfectly willing to take a look at the support that we gave earlier and possibly resurrecting that support.”

City Councilman Donald F. Munson, who also attends EDC meetings as an ex-officio member, said he was pleased with Bowers’ suggestion.

“We do want baseball here, and I think most of the people in the city of Hagerstown and Washington County want baseball here, too,” Munson said.

“Ron made a great suggestion this morning to try to tell Mr. Quinn — the owner of the team, a man who paid millions of dollars for the team ... we need to tell him that we want him here. He ought to be able to feel the love, and that’s what we want to send him.”

Quinn said in an email Wednesday that he is continuing talks with Fredericksburg, but plans to meet with Hagerstown staff members on Tuesday.

Although Munson said he did not have further knowledge about that meeting, he said he believes Fredericksburg is years behind Hagerstown in sifting through the terms of a new stadium deal, if they choose to move forward.

“We’ve been through this for 10 or 15 years, actually,” Munson said. “And we have kind of figured out how to get beyond these problems ... so, I think we’re in a position where if the community demonstrates its will to have the Suns remain here,” it can become a reality.

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