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Suns owner proposes double play to keep baseball in Hagerstown

September 06, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn spoke with the media after his meeting Friday afternoon with Hagerstown City officials.
By Joe Crocetta / Staff Photographer

Hagerstown Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn said Friday that he plans to move the minor league team to Fredericksburg, Va., but also wants to keep professional baseball in the Hub City.

“Our intention is to go to Fredericksburg with the (Class) A ball team that we have, but also our intention is to wait for the plans here that the city council is discussing,” Quinn said after a closed-door meeting with Hagerstown officials Friday afternoon at City Hall.

Quinn said the Suns’ name would not go to Fredericksburg, and he’s exploring ways to bring another “undetermined” professional baseball team to Hagerstown that could be operated by the Suns ownership and associated investors or another baseball ownership group — once the city decides on a location and master plan that includes a stadium project.

“It’s not Fredericksburg or Hagerstown,” Quinn said. “We’re involved with both of them, and we’d like to maintain that involvement with two professional teams.”

In Fredericksburg, the Suns have partnered with New Jersey-based Diamond Nation and a local automotive company to build a privately-financed and owned $29 million sports complex that would include a new multiuse stadium for the low-level Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

Joined in Hagerstown by Diamond Nation President Keith Dilgard and South Atlantic League President Eric Krupa, Quinn met with city Mayor David S. Gysberts, all five Hagerstown City Council members and several other city staff members for nearly an hour.

“We had a good productive conversation about what next steps we might take to accomplish everyone’s goal of keeping professional baseball in Hagerstown,” Gysberts said.

The five-member council recently reached a 3-2 consensus that the downtown location near the corner of West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue would provide the best site to build a new multiuse ballpark. But Quinn said he has been unable to garner adequate private investment to make the project a reality.

Quinn said building a new ballpark in conjunction with youth or amateur sports facilities in the city’s East End — similar to what he has proposed in Fredericksburg — would produce a more favorable situation for private investment, still producing increased foot traffic for the city.

“I think the East End has more room to spread out,” he said.


New team?

An affiliated full-season club like the Suns may work better in the warmer climate of Fredericksburg, Quinn said.

But a short-season professional team — as in the New York-Penn League, which plays primarily during the summer months when school is out — may be a better fit for Hagerstown, he said.

Quinn said he is considering the prospect of trying to bring a Class A short-season team when he moves the Suns to Fredericksburg, as long as it fits into the city’s master plan of a stadium and ancillary youth or amateur athletic facilities.

“But that’s up to city council,” he said. “It comes down to money investment, who would own what, and outside investment, too. The master plan is really important.

“It’s exciting,” Quinn said. “It’s not Fredericksburg or Hagerstown. We could do both, and I think it’ll work (in) both places.”

Although Gysberts said “all options” are still on the table in regard to financing and location for a new facility, Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire — who has been against building a downtown stadium — said a ballpark in the city’s core would do nothing to jump-start redevelopment, but a downtown project could interact with an overall redevelopment plan in the East End.

Gysberts previously said he wanted Quinn’s “best proposal” for keeping professional baseball in Hagerstown by Sept. 30.

“(I) Just gave it to him,” Quinn said after the meeting.


Fredericksburg working

Meanwhile, Fredericksburg officials are currently working through land and cost assessments based on the concept proposal presented by the baseball partnership, City Councilman Fred Howe said Friday.

“We’ve been looking at the impacts of picking up some land” that has outstanding debt on it, said Howe, referring to land in the city’s Celebrate Virginia South development formerly dedicated to building a U.S. Slavery Museum.

Howe said the city still needs to navigate about “six significant” steps to keep the ball rolling on the proposed baseball complex project, including approving changes to the city’s tourism zone, plus other zoning and planning commission measures.

“The land is still the Achilles’ heel to this baseball concept,” he said, noting that the actual construction of the baseball facility would take 18 months at a minimum.

“... This is not like you’re building a house. There’s a whole lot of things that have to fall into place very quickly,” he said.

Although Howe said no official word has been given from the baseball partnership yet, Quinn said the group is “going full speed ahead.”

“Fredericksburg is an exciting project for us; having the amateur complex there,” Quinn said. “It’s one of the few in the country that will be built like that. It’s on the perfect I-95 corridor there for the amateur complex.”

Quinn said the team anticipates selling about 3,000 tickets per home game just from attendees for Diamond Nation events.

“Without anybody from Fredericksburg coming to a game, we’ve got 3,000 people coming so it’s a very logical business decision from that standpoint,” he said.

The Suns will play out the 2014 season in Hagerstown, and plan to have the complex built in Fredericksburg for the start of the 2015 season, Quinn said.

To be built on approximately 38 acres, the facility would include a multiuse stadium for the Suns, with at least 4,750 fixed seats, plus at least five artificial-turf fields for amateur baseball and softball activities.

Under the concept plan, the city would purchase land and build an 1,800-space parking lot adjacent to the baseball complex for an estimated $7 million, as well as provide a package of tax and revenue incentives back to the group based on performance, projected to amount to about $22.6 million over 20 years.

Diamond Nation operates instructional programs for amateur baseball and softball players, as well as runs tournaments that attracts players from all around the region — a major selling point for Fredericksburg officials looking to increase the city’s taxable base with a budget shortfall looming in future years.

“This is a partnership, and we want them to be successful, so we can share in that success to take care of our city residents’ needs now and in the future,” Howe said.

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