Is time running out for Hagerstown to keep the Suns?

August 14, 2013|By DON AINES |

The latest proposal by the Hagerstown Suns to Fredericksburg, Va., might not spell the end of the team’s relationship with Hagerstown, but some local elected officials believe the time has come for the city to act.

The Suns are not a lost cause, but after two years of inaction, the city’s elected officials cannot keep waiting for Winchester, Va., Fredericksburg, or some other city to decide the team’s future, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Wednesday.

The Suns this week announced that the team had partnered with Diamond Nation of New Jersey on a new privately-driven proposal to build a baseball and entertainment complex in Fredericksburg.

The Fredericksburg City Council met Tuesday in closed session to discuss the proposal, but took no action, according to Fredericksburg Councilman Fred Howe.


Howe, a member of his city’s three-member negotiating team, said no Suns representatives were at the meeting, but described the council’s discussions in positive terms.

The council is tentatively scheduled to take up the proposal at its Aug. 27 meeting, he said.

The city’s contribution to the project would be approximately $7 million, the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star has reported.

In June, Suns’ majority owner Bruce Quinn proposed moving the Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals to Fredericksburg. Since then, that city held a public hearing during which residents told officials to come back with a proposal relying less on public financing.

“I’m not sure there’s a great deal of credibility in that story,” Hagerstown Councilman Donald Munson said of the current Fredericksburg proposal.

The sports and entertainment complex envisioned by Quinn and Diamond Nation might cost up to $80 million or more, said Munson, who is not convinced Fredericksburg could manage the debt it might incur.

Munson, who favors a stadium at the site of the former Washington County Hospital, also questioned whether the Suns have the money needed for the project.

There has been no discussion by the Hagerstown City Council in public or in closed session about the stadium since the spring, Metzner said. The last time Quinn met with the council was after the 2012 election, he said.

Still, Metzner said he doesn’t know if there are three votes in support of a stadium downtown, and he is getting mixed signals on what progress has been made in  negotiations.

Those mixed signals include whether the city has received a lease offer from the Suns — something he has heard might have happened.

“There’s got to be an end to it,” Metzner said of the lack of action. “How do we tell Bruce Quinn he has a deadline if we don’t know what we’re going to do?”

“I have repeatedly requested at our mayor and council meetings for this issue to be placed on the agenda,” Councilman Kristin Aleshire said.

That request did not get any traction until Tuesday’s council meeting, he said.

“Not discussing it at all is not, in my mind, the way to go about doing city business,” Aleshire said.

Aleshire was initially part of the negotiating team, which he said was to discuss lease terms that would be acceptable to the city, but not be specific to any stadium location.

However, he withdrew from the process after one meeting.

“In the meeting I attended, I received a draft that indicated the city would pay (the Suns) to play at our old stadium during construction of a new stadium,” Aleshire said.

It was clear to him from comments by some council members that they were only seriously considering the Summit Avenue site, he said.

Aleshire said he favors the Hager Park option, because it has the most acreage, is largely city-owned, is mostly flat and presents few environmental issues.

City ‘paralysis’

Munson said the negotiating team includes Mayor David Gysberts and Councilman Martin Brubaker, but he also does not know where negotiations stand.

He agreed that the council has to act sooner, rather than later.

“If (Quinn) puts all his marbles in Hagerstown, and Hagerstown can’t produce a stadium for him, that’s a problem for him,” Munson said.

Negotiations with Fredericksburg could go on for weeks, if not months, Munson said. Until the Hagerstown has a proposal to vote on, it hampers efforts to nail down stadium funding from the state, he said.

Metzner fears the city is basically waiting to see what happens with the Suns’ negotiations with Fredericksburg, Va., which he said is resulting in “a paralysis.”

“I don’t see that we have much of a choice,” Munson said, when asked if the council has to wait on the outcome of those talks.

“I believe (Quinn) is doing all he can as a businessman and team owner to locate in Fredericksburg,” in part to be closer to the parent team in Washington, Munson said.

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