A multiuse stadium isn’t the only issue that divides the two candidates for mayor of Hagerstown.
David S. Gysberts, a Democrat, and incumbent Robert E. Bruchey II, a Republican, also disagree on whether the city should buy properties and be a partner in a lobbying coalition.
But the stadium issue was the weightiest during Wednesday’s candidate forum sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce at the Academy Theater.
Bruchey has championed a plan to build a new multiuse stadium downtown. He said the project, which includes a parking garage and other redevelopment, is estimated to cost $37 million. Of that, the city’s share would be $4 million, which Bruchey called a great rate of return.
Gysberts, who lost to Bruchey in the 2009 mayoral race, said it’s hard for him to know what to think about the stadium proposal because there’s no concrete public plan.
However, Gysberts said he, Bruchey and many other people agree the Hagerstown Suns needs a new stadium.
Gysberts said he thinks the public largely has been shut out of the stadium discussions. Bruchey disputed that, saying the topic has come up 32 times in open session and the public has commented on seven occasions.
Responding to Gysberts’ skepticism about the location of the proposed stadium — West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue — Bruchey said a 1999 plan for a stadium at Interstate 81 and Salem Avenue had far less support.
With the election three weeks away, Bruchey and Gysberts also sparred on the city government’s approach and progress in improving Hagerstown.
Gysberts said there’s a risk of losing sight of many other parts of Hagerstown if the city has a “myopic” focus on downtown.
Bruchey, though, called downtown the city’s heart, the key to a strong overall body. He said there’s been significant private investment in other parts of the city, including $25 million along Eastern Boulevard in the last few years.
The candidates’ shortest exchange came when asked if Hagerstown should be part of a community coalition that hires a lobbyist in Annapolis each year. Bruchey said yes. Gysberts said no.
On some issues, the candidates agreed — the Washington County Board of Education office should move downtown from Commonwealth Avenue, public safety is government’s top priority, foot traffic is vital to the downtown’s success.
Thunder in the Square, a recent motor vehicle event, drew thousands of people downtown, packing restaurants, Bruchey said.
Gysberts said the city has a poor track record buying and developing properties. The city has let too many private properties deteriorate, making it difficult for new owners to buy and revive them, he said.
Bruchey pointed to a recent example where, he said, the city did the right thing — acquiring 36-40 N. Potomac St., which was becoming unsafe. The site is being improved and the facade looks better, he said.