By C.J. LOVELACE
8:14 PM EDT, September 4, 2012
A private donor has verbally agreed to contribute $15 million toward the construction of a multiuse sports and events center in downtown Hagerstown that would house the Hagerstown Suns, the city council announced Tuesday.
City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous for now, has asked the city for naming rights to the stadium, which is expected to cost about $30 million and include a parking deck.
The donor is not a resident of Maryland “at this time,” but lives in the Tri-State area, Metzner said.
“There is a donor who has come forward who has been connected to sports in this area for a long, long time and has been connected to this area for a long time,” Metzner said. “He believes in this project, believes in downtown renovation and has offered to make a $15 million contribution.”
The city has only received a verbal confirmation, Metzner said, but written documents have been exchanged that “appear to be agreeable.”
“We don’t have the money in our hands yet, but this is a commitment we have been given,” Metzner said. “And that’s very exciting news.”
Metzner said he believes the contribution would be the largest percentage-wise for a minor league baseball stadium project in the state — perhaps even in the nation — and it’s surely the largest in the history of the city.
“Its very exciting for us,” he said. “And it’s something that we have not been able to discuss prior to now.”
Metzner said a news conference might be called soon to formally announce the private funding and to give the donor a chance to disclose more information. Metzner said the donor would not have verbally agreed to make the contribution for a new stadium if it were built near the interstate.
A new long-term lease with the Suns has yet to be solidified. The goal is to create a 20-year lease with two five-year extensions with the club.
Metzner said there has been a lot of “back and forth” between the city and the low-level Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals and they have gotten closer, but they have yet to reach an agreement suitable for both parties.
“I think everybody’s hopeful that it’s going to end,” he said.
City officials are hoping to secure $10 million from the state to help pay for the stadium’s construction, and private-sector funding has remained a crucial part of getting the state to get on board, city council members have said.
The $15 million private contribution is the reason the city has progressed this far in lease talks, Metzner said, noting that it would have been unlikely to get state funding without it.
“If we had not known about the $15 million for quite some time, we would not have been in negotiations,” he said. “Without the $25 million that we anticipate in funding, this project just couldn’t get off the ground.”
The city and the Washington County Commissioners earlier this year agreed to a funding formula that would contribute up to $800,000 annually over the life of a 20-year bond to help pay for the facility, but with the potential for $25 million to come from private and state funding, it could lessen the local share of the debt.
“We were banking on this money, and that does make this project work, in a big, big way,” Metzner said. “It’s a substantial amount of money; undoubtedly the largest private donation ever made to the City of Hagerstown. That has kept this ball rolling dramatically.”
The proposed location for the new ballpark, which city officials hope becomes a beacon of redevelopment in the struggling downtown, is near the corner of Summit Avenue and West Baltimore Street.
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