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Hagerstown-Washington County EDC throws support behind keeping Suns

The panel will use its influence to help get support from various funding agencies should the stadium project move forward

July 30, 2013|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission has officially joined the effort to keep the Suns in Hagerstown, delivering a letter last week to the minor league baseball team’s majority owner pledging to lobby the city, county and state for a new stadium downtown.

“We realize that should the Suns stay here, the team will need a new stadium,” the Friday letter to majority owner Bruce Quinn read. “To move this goal toward fruition, we will continue to lobby agencies — the City of Hagerstown, Washington County and the State of Maryland — to help secure funding to build the state-of-the-art sports facility the Suns deserve.

“Furthermore, we see many opportunities for downtown revitalization which would accompany the possibility of a new stadium,” said the letter signed by EDC Chairman Daniel L. Pheil. “Prime opportunities for business investment and property revitalization will help increase foot traffic levels in Hagerstown’s City Center and help position it as a top recreation destination.”

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“I personally delivered the letter to Mr. Quinn at the (Suns) game Friday night,” Pheil said Monday. “He seemed very appreciative of receiving the letter of support” from the EDC.

The EDC will use its influence to help get support from the various funding agencies should the Hagerstown City Council vote to move forward with a downtown stadium, he said.

The EDC had previously gone on record in support of the earlier proposal for a downtown stadium that was sidetracked by the last municipal election when Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and three council members lost their seats, Pheil said.

The EDC continues to support a stadium in the originally proposed location, Pheil said.

Now, it is time for the city council to make up its mind, he said.

“I have a sense that it is going to move forward,” Pheil said of the stadium project.

The Suns have long been asking for a new stadium if the team is to remain in Hagerstown. Since June, the team has also been talking with officials in  Fredericksburg, Va., about a stadium deal.

Officials from Fredericksburg are scheduled to meet Tuesday with Suns’ representatives to try to work out a new proposal for a $30 million stadium.

Following a July 9 public hearing on an initial proposal, the Fredericksburg City Council voted to go back to the drawing board after residents expressed concern over public financing of the multiuse stadium.

Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Monday that he has not seen the EDC letter, but his position on the stadium is unchanged from the previous administration — he supports retaining the Suns, building a downtown stadium and funding the project.

Although other locations, including the former Washington County Hospital site and Hager Park next to Memorial Stadium, have been discussed, they are not under serious consideration, he said.

“There’s only one site location under consideration. That’s downtown,” Metzner said. “If it doesn’t happen downtown, it’s not going to happen.”

“One reason is there’s no funding model for any other site,” Metzner said.

That plan was hashed out during a year of public hearings, meetings and votes, he said.

“I think we are where we were at in the last administration,” Metzner said.

More debate on the matter will likely result in elected officials “hearing the same people say the same thing,” he said.

A vote by the council either way is not going to please everyone, Metzner said.

Referendum possible

As far as the $30 million price tag for a new stadium, Metzner said the city’s contribution would be $8 million used to leverage the balance from the Suns, along with county and state contributions.

Metzner said he doubts much will come from the Suns’ negotiations with Fredericksburg, since Hagerstown has been wrestling with the decision for more than a year, while that city has held just one public hearing to date.

However, Metzner said he does not know the status of negotiations between Hagerstown city officials and the Suns at this point. There have been no updates to the council, either in public meetings, executive sessions or privately, he said.

Even if the council approves a stadium proposal, it eventually would have to approve an ordinance to allow the project to proceed, and ordinances are subject to public referendum, Metzner said.

Opponents could try to thwart a stadium deal if they can get enough signatures to support a referendum, he said.

While the city has to make up its mind, so do the Suns, Metzner said. At some point, the team is going to have to reach a lease agreement with some municipality, he said.

It could be time for the city to give the Suns a deadline to sign, rather than the team imposing deadlines on Hagerstown, Metzner said.

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