HAGERSTOWN —In light of speculation that City of Hagerstown officials might be abandoning a proposal to build a downtown stadium, numerous concerned business owners and supporters of a downtown revitalization project urged the Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday not to give up, with one business owner going as far as saying inaction would be like the city is “essentially turning its back on the downtown.”
“For me, the stadium has an immediate impact,” said Rich Daughtridge, owner of High Rock Studios on Public Square. “It seems like that’s off the table now.”
Daughtridge was one of a dozen people who voiced their concerns before the five-member council during the public comment period at City Hall. Two other long-standing businesses unable to send representatives to the meeting issued statements earlier Tuesday.
F. Christian Wright, president of Wright-Gardner Insurance at 100 W. Antietam St., said in a statement that his firm, a stalwart in Hagerstown since 1914, might have to seriously consider its future in the city if something is not done soon.
If the city turns its back on the downtown stadium project, it sends “a clear message to business owners like me that we are left to fend for ourselves as to whether or not we should stay in an otherwise deteriorating location,” Wright said in the statement.
“Please pick up where your predecessors left off and move forward with the downtown stadium project,” he said in the statement. “Our community needs a shot in the arm and a multiuse stadium will certainly give us that jolt.”
Paul Deputy, owner of The Gourmet Goat restaurant, said it’s hard for downtown business owners to stay positive without change in the city’s core.
“If things don’t change quickly ... guess what, we’re all starting to get impatient,” he said. “We need to see a change, and a change quickly.”
Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the comments he heard Tuesday were nothing new, as city officials have been trying for years to find an answer to reverse the worsening — and even “toxic,” as it was described by one speaker — conditions in downtown Hagerstown.
Since news that the private $15 million donation might not come as once thought, Metzner said he’s become more and more “pessimistic” not just about a downtown stadium becoming a reality, but also keeping the Hagerstown Suns and professional baseball in town.
In response to people saying the city appears to be turning its back on the downtown, Metzner said, “I think if this body decides to do nothing, you’re right, but I reject that this council has that idea. I certainly believe that the MUSEC project is dim at this stage of the game for downtown.”
But a downtown stadium project is not the only thing that is going to be discussed over the next four years of this new administration, he added, noting expansion of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown and the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, as well as trying to bring the Washington County Board of Education downtown as potential projects to work toward.
While it’s uncertain if a stadium could be included, a “major redevelopment project” covering multiple blocks in the downtown is something that city officials want to move forward on, Metzner said.
“I think we’re determined to make that known to this community in the immediate future and do it in a public manner, and have them part of it — the business community, the Neighborhoods 1st groups, the groups in opposition to this program,” he said. “We need to bring everybody together and come up with a long-term and short-term major redevelopment plan in downtown Hagerstown, and I believe that will be done.”