HAGERSTOWN —Hagerstown City Councilman Martin Brubaker issued a written statement Monday urging the rest of the five-member council to support holding a public hearing on the estimated $30 million multiuse sports and events center proposed for downtown Hagerstown.
“I think that this is a significant enough project and it raises a lot of issues,” Brubaker said. “It deserves more input than a typical project.”
Earlier this month, Washington County and city officials agreed on a funding formula that could support up to $16 million over 20 years toward the center’s local debt service, which includes private investments and makes up about two-thirds of the project cost. The remaining one-third of the funding, about $10 million, is expected to come from the state, officials have said.
In his statement, Brubaker said a detailed forum should precede the hearing to help educate people on the status of the project and provide the latest information, such as where the city stands in lease negotiations with the Hagerstown Suns and what types of nonbaseball events would be held at the center.
A target date for such a hearing could be mid- to late-summer, when schematic renderings of the facility and surrounding site, as well as cost estimates, should be available, according to Brubaker’s statement.
Brubaker said he has not yet approved or committed to building the facility, saying all that the city has agreed to so far is a “step-by-step process where we need to continually decide whether to keep moving forward.”
Citizens have an opportunity to speak before the city council Tuesday during its regular meeting at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
Julie Rivett, a concerned citizen who recently moved to Summit Avenue near the proposed site, said she plans to speak because the issue is “concerning a lot of people.”
“I think that (city officials are) just disregarding most of us who live there,” she said.
Councilman Lewis Metzner said he’s not sure what to expect as far as public comment Tuesday night, but he is definitely in favor of having a public hearing on the proposed facility, though he stressed it would have to be “constructive, and not yelling matches (or) a popularity contest.”
Metzner said he has received emails from the community about the project, but most have been in support, by about 5-to-1. Most of the opposition has been voiced at city council meetings, he said.
“When I hear opposition in smaller settings and have the ability to talk to people about their concerns, I find the opposition is much more tempered,” Metzner said. “I’ve attempted to reach out to various groups and offer to meet with them privately and publicly.”
Metzner said some people who are against the project seem to believe in some type of “conspiracy theory” going on at City Hall and that “we would break ground tomorrow” if it were approved.
That’s not the case, Metzner said.
“We’re nowhere near that point, and I’m very optimistic that we’re going to get to that point, but I’ve told everybody we’re a far cry from having this thing done,” he said. “I hope it is done, and I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be.”
When asked if he supports a public hearing, Councilman Forrest Easton simply replied: “Absolutely.”
“That was one of my comments that I made. I asked, ‘When is the public actually able to comment on this process?’” he said.
Easton said the city council welcomes open public comment during its regular session meeting every fourth Tuesday, but that’s not enough for an issue such as this. He said he believes a hearing should be held at a more convenient time than 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, perhaps on a Saturday morning.
“It needs to be a convenient time, and I think it needs to start early because there’s going to be a lot of comments — for and against,” said Easton, who won’t be able to attend Tuesday night’s meeting for personal reasons.
While the project is still not a certainty, Metzner said it’s already generating buzz with potential developers downtown. In the past week, the councilman said he has talked with three development entities about major projects associated with the proposed facility.
“I can’t tell you I’ve had one developer in the last three years (ask) about such a thing, and in the last week I’ve heard from three,” Metzner said. “Nobody’s committed anything, but interest in downtown Hagerstown is starting to happen just from these discussions.”
Metzner said he understands that people in neighboring areas of the site have “legitimate concerns” and the council plans to help mitigate them, but citizens must ask questions for city officials to provide answers and resolve issues, not just make demands or statements and expect results.
“In some meetings, people just don’t want to hear that. They just want to act like you just don’t care,” Metzner said. “That’s not the truth, and I’m hoping we’ll have productive meetings. It’s not going to be majority rules at public hearings. That’s the bottom line.”
Councilman William Breichner and Councilwoman Ashley Haywood did not return calls Monday seeking comment for this story.