City sits on its hands as Suns are ready to leave Hagerstown in the dark

August 20, 2013

By all appearances, Hagerstown is on the brink of losing professional baseball. That’s quite a feat. Over the past three decades there have been small bumps and major crises, but at the end of the day the men and women who occupied the mayor and council chairs were able to come together to keep baseball.

This city council has been incapable of doing that.

We share the frustration of Councilman Lewis Metzner, who at last week’s council meeting said the council has done “absolutely nothing” on the stadium issue since the spring. And while this council sat on its hands, forces in and out of government in Fredericksburg, Va., have been working out a plan that not only will bring professional baseball to their town, but also will tap in to the highly popular and lucrative softball circuit.

It’s not so much the loss of baseball that is disconcerting as it is the loss of opportunity. Downtown Hagerstown is in dire need of redevelopment. A new stadium by itself was not the answer, but it could have been at the center of a bold plan to change the fate of downtown.

And what has our council done to seize this opportunity? There’s precious little that we can see. They complained of no private investor, but how hard did they look? Because apparently there are private sports investors out there, with capital that will be going to Virginia instead of here. 

For months, council meeting after council meeting has gone by without even a whisper of a discussion. Not only did this council fail to play the game, it failed to even get on the bus. As Fredericksburg moved forward, no one here acted in any meaningful way.

And we hope the council doesn’t insult our citizens’ intelligence by telling us this was the fault of Suns owner Bruce Quinn. Quinn was looking to drive a hard bargain, no doubt. That’s what businessmen do. But a year ago at this time, he was apparently on board with what the last Hagerstown council had sketched out — a stadium in the heart of downtown.

Even if this current council didn’t like that plan it had every opportunity to make its case with Quinn for an alternative. But that didn’t happen, either. Quinn can hardly be blamed for looking elsewhere after this council stalled.

There is no way to look at this without concluding that the city has shown an appalling lack of leadership and vision. And frankly, not all that much leadership and vision was called for. The previous council had laid the groundwork. The Sora Development group appeared ready and willing to make it all happen.

All that was required of this council was to stay out of the way, and it couldn’t do that because it thought it knew best.

So when the East End becomes home to a rusting ghost of a stadium, and we look across our boundaries and see communities thrive that have embraced recreation and tourism, we will remember this council for its inaction.

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