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New stadium would serve little purpose without team

September 06, 2013

A week ago, Hagerstown Mayor David S. Gysberts released a clear, well-reasoned statement of intent regarding a proposed multi-use stadium downtown. In it, Gysberts announced the city's resolve to get the project done, both as a way to keep minor league baseball in the community and as an economic revitalization tool.

The only shortcoming is that this purposeful document was issued on Aug. 30, 2013, when it should have been forthcoming on Dec. 30, 2012. Much has changed in the past eight months.

It has always been the position of The Herald-Mail that bold strokes are needed to turn around the city. Our support of a new stadium has been less about keeping baseball in Hagerstown and more about an injection of economic adrenaline for the downtown. That was our concern about two proposals that would have built a stadium outside of the city core.

The city now says it has a majority that will move ahead with a multi-use stadium downtown, much like the one envisioned by the last council. But the issue will be apparent to anyone who has been following the news: While the old problem was a team with no new stadium, the new problem appears to be that we might wind up with a stadium but no team.

We do appreciate the mayor’s strong statement, and, for maybe the first time since its taking office, this council’s awareness of the task at hand. We do not intend to be dismissive of this effort.

But the Hagerstown Suns appear to be all but gone. Fredericksburg, Va., has moved with alacrity toward construction of a major sports venue of which the Suns are to be a part. The Hagerstown City Council seems to still believe it can entice Suns ownership to stay in town, and we hope that is true. But if it’s not — and if the city has no signed contract with any other team — what is the point of a stadium? An empty stadium will not foster any economic activity.

We continue to believe that the city needs something big and bold if it is to make progress and not fall further into the spiral of empty shops and shady characters. But baseball and a baseball stadium might not be the answer, especially if there is no team. This means the city will need to get to work on something else.

If the city can win back the Suns or ink another franchise, that’s one thing. But to construct a stadium on spec — like builders often do with houses — and then hope that someone will come along and use it makes little sense to us.

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