By DAN DEARTH
7:48 PM EDT, October 3, 2012
Eight candidates running for Hagerstown City Council participated Wednesday morning in a forum at which they fielded questions and offered their positions on the construction of a $30 million multi-use stadium and entertainment complex downtown.
About 45 people attended the event, which was sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, at the Academy Theatre on East Washington Street.
All five City Council seats will be up for grabs during the Nov. 6 election.
Below are the candidates’ responses to the stadium question:
Kristin Aleshire, 37, Democrat.
Aleshire said too many questions about the stadium remained unanswered.
“How many of you would proceed ... supporting a business proposal like that if you hadn’t seen a copy of your lease, if you hadn’t seen an environmental report of the property, if you hadn’t seen a financial estimate and model for the business product and you hadn’t seen any designer or engineering plans?” he asked. “That’s basically what you’re asking this candidate to do is to answer a question like that without seeing any of that documentation. And frankly, for a good part of this discussion on this specific topic, I think that’s the way the general public out there feels, the general voter (in) the city feels.”
Aleshire said he believed the city was following the right path by promoting education downtown with projects such as the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, the expansion of the Washington County Free Library and doubling the size of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.
“I think we need to make that our priority for downtown,” he said.
Lauren “Larry” Bayer, 61, Republican.
Bayer said he would support the project if he knew how the city was going to pay for it.
“I’ve been telling people about downtown revitalization, we’re at the point now where we have to go big or we have to go home,” he said. “The idea that being able to spend $250,000 to $300,000 on this project, move a couple doors away and do another couple hundred thousand dollars has not succeeded. We need an anchor at the south end, which a stadium would be, but we also need an anchor at the north end, which would tie the downtown together.”
Bayer said he talked with a lot of business owners downtown in his former post as the City of Hagerstown’s community development director.
“The biggest problem they had was the market,” he said. “We need to come up with a way to draw folks downtown.”
He said the stadium project might do just that.
William M. Breichner, 81, (Incumbent), Democrat.
Breichner said he has always supported baseball in Hagerstown.
“It’s a very important business to have in this community, and I do support the stadium project — based on an agreement with the Suns, a contract with the Suns,” he said. “We need some guarantees of state money coming in.”
Breichner said he wants to know more about a “magnificent $15 million hanging out there” that was promised by an anonymous donor but never paid out.
“We do have support from the (Washington County government), which is very important on this particular issue,” he said. “I think there are a lot of things, a lot of items that need to be answered. We’ve hardly even started bringing that to fruition. It’s not a done deal.”
Martin E. Brubaker, 66, (Incumbent), Democrat.
“The stadium has to be financially feasible. I’ve said that over and over again,” Brubaker said. “When the staff came (to the council) to issue bonds for the stadium, we put those off because we do not yet have guarantees from either the Suns or from private contributions and private donors that we said at the beginning we needed to do this project.”
Brubaker said the council has worked hard with private investors and potential donors to get the project up and running.
“We do not have something I think that citizens can react to at the moment except for general principle,” Brubaker said. “I would hope that we can push this forward ... We should be looking for large-scale, major, private sector investors. We should be scouring the metropolitan area for that type of development. Whether we get the stadium or not, I think that’s a direction we need to move in — not just public investment.”
Ashley Haywood, 27, (Incumbent), Unaffiliated.
Haywood said she supports the development of downtown, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the stadium project.
“It’s in the development phase,” she said. “In my experience working with the stadium project, I get the overwhelming sense that this community is resistant to change, and most humans are resistant to change. But in this process, I would hope that cooler heads would prevail and we don’t let this project implode in on itself because everyone’s freaking out about the potential ramifications of this multi-million dollar investment in downtown Hagerstown.”
She said she believed that the community eventually will realize that the project is a “private, public and state contribution that is making this happen.”
Haywood said taxes wouldn’t necessarily have to be increased to pay for the new stadium.
“For once, the entire community — all sectors of the community — are working together to make something happen,” she said. “That I absolutely 100 percent support.”
Lewis C. Metzner, 59, (Incumbent), Democrat.
“I support the concept that is in play now,” Metzner said of the stadium project. “Citizens in this community deserve to know what’s going on. We have tried our best to give a snapshot of where we’re at.”
Metzner said city officials are working on a redevelopment concept for the downtown that involves $25 million of grant funding. He said the city doesn’t have the money yet, but he supports the path that has been chosen to get there.
“There are a million questions ... that need to be answered,” he said. “We don’t have those answers yet, and we are trying to tell the community that and let them know where we’re at right now.”
Don Munson, 74, Republican.
Munson said he opposes the stadium project in downtown Hagerstown.
“I’ve been knocking on doors almost every day since December the 21st,” he said. “I’ve had no more than 45 people tell me they support the stadium. I’ve had thousands of people tell me that they do not support the stadium and that they’re incredibly upset with it. Sometimes you have to work for the people. They pay the bills.”
Munson said he supports economic development and baseball in Hagerstown. He said he supports refurbishing Municipal Stadium, the facility where the Suns have played since 1981, and tearing down the former Municipal Electric Light Plant across the street.
“To refurbish Hagerstown, we need housing,” he said. “We need good, quality housing with amenities that will attract people downtown, and we need more educational opportunities in downtown, and we need the (Washington County) Board of Education in downtown.”
Penny Nigh, 65, Democrat.
Nigh said she also opposes the stadium project.
“I believe that the old stadium can be revamped,” she said.
Nigh said Suns owner Bruce Quinn has been holding the city “hostage” by threatening to move the team to get the best deal for him.
“The people have been held hostage by not knowing what’s going on,” she said.
Nigh said she believes that foot traffic from the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts and the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown could support more eateries and businesses other than retail.
She said that the former YMCA on North Potomac Street should be reopened to support youth athletics.
“It seems like we are focused on education, and I think that’s the way now to go until we can do something else,” she said.
Three of the 11 candidates — Republicans Jonathan R. Burrs, Jeffrey M. Coney and Chris C. Kelly — did not participate.
Forrest W. Easton, who had been the fifth council incumbent seeking re-election, withdrew from the race in mid-August. Coney, the lone GOP candidate not to make it through the April primary, was nominated to take Easton’s spot in the election.
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