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Hagerstown proves 'you can't get there from here'

August 28, 2013

Forty-nine days.

That’s how long it took the community of Fredericksburg, Va., to negotiate a deal with the Hagerstown Suns for a new stadium.

Two-hundred thirty-three days.

That’s how long it took one Hagerstown city councilman this year to even get in touch with his own inner feelings about the project — not to mention all the collective hemming and hawing from various and sundry elected officials, potential investors and competing business interests.

The state of Maryland was standing there with $10 million, just trying to give it to Hagerstown, saying “Here, get yourself something nice,” and the city council just stood there with drool collecting on the dais as if they’d just been asked to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem.

It took Fredericksburg six weeks to come up with a plan for a minor league baseball park. It took Hagerstown six years to come up with plans for a leash-free dog park. Unfortunately, this is not a joke.

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We secretly negotiated for three months with an anonymous “millionaire” whose gift toward construction ultimately proved to be  a fiction.

In Fredericksburg, a car dealer in a matter of weeks showed up at the bank with a $1.5 million cashier’s check payable to the city for stadium naming rights.

Fredericksburg council members who initially were opposed to the deal had their staff do some negotiating, got a better deal and joined in a unanimous decision.

Here’s a paragraph from Pamela Gould’s story in yesterday’s Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star:
“Councilman George Solley voted against moving ahead with negotiations (in July), believing a workable deal couldn’t be reached. But Tuesday night, before the vote was taken, he commended the city’s negotiators and the baseball partners for their success in coming up with a deal that ‘thinks outside the box.’”

Imagine that.

Negotiate? Sorry, in Hagerstown we can’t wrap our minds around four-syllable words. And you mean Suns owner Bruce Quinn wasn’t Darth Vadar after all? Who knew?

Speaking of outside the box, Fredericksburg doesn’t have an architectural design for the new stadium yet.

Maybe we can sell them ours. Make us a little pocket change on the side.

If there’s one thing this county does well, it’s conceptual designs. You could almost piece them together end-to-end and create a virtual community akin to Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill.

None of these conceptual drawings ever gets built, of course, but no one trumps us for our artwork.

Couple these with all the consultant studies of The Way Things Ought To Be (for the airport, fire and rescue, economic development, you name it) and, in theory, we live in Hager-La.

None of this ever gets built, or done, because there is no time. We are too busy appointing task forces to study the studies, or putting way too much weight on the opinions of self-appointed antagonists who exist only for the opportunity to shred whatever new idea might come along.

Fredericksburg had its baseball-stadium opponents. Fredericksburg had its location disputes.

Fredericksburg had its funding issues.

Yet somehow, these issues — the same issues we stumbled over for months, and in the end never did resolve — took one city in Virginia only a few weeks to figure out.

The sad lesson of the Suns will forevermore be “It can be done.” Just not here.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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