With the anonymous $15 million private donation to the City of Hagerstown’s proposed downtown multiuse sports and events center all but gone, does that mean that organized baseball will follow suit?
Mayor David S. Gysberts and several Hagerstown City Council members on Wednesday said they want to keep the team in town, but it’s going to take a different approach, one that has yet to be determined.
The $15 million and other private funding, which never materialized as city officials had once hoped, were the main drivers in the $37 million downtown proposal, especially since it would be needed to even ask the state to consider granting another $10 million toward the project.
Now the private donation isn’t there, according to Councilman Lewis C. Metzner on Tuesday, and the state hasn’t shown definite support of the project to date, leaving many wondering what it’s going to take to keep the Hagerstown Suns in Hagerstown.
“I am not giving up hope,” Gysberts said. “I have not reached out to any of the owners of the Suns, but it’s my intent to do so; to let them know I personally want to see them stay in town. I think there are other alternatives that could garner business, community support and the support of residents of Hagerstown as well.”
Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn did not return phone messages Wednesday seeking comment on the team’s intentions moving forward.
Reflecting on the past year, Gysberts has maintained that “the process affects the product,” and he always felt the $15 million donation was “shaky ... at best.” He said he and the five-member city council haven’t come to a consensus on their next move yet.
But that doesn’t mean that building a new facility in an attempt to keep the Suns is out of the question, he said.
“Personally, I really think we need to build a new multiuse facility,” Gysberts said. “I still have questions about the location. I also think that it’s possible to redevelop a different area of the city and have it have just as great of an economic impact.”
Since they launched their election campaigns, council members Donald F. Munson and Penny Nigh have supported a large-scale renovation of Municipal Stadium at or near its current spot on East Memorial Boulevard.
The 82-year-old ballpark, which was deemed substandard to Major League Baseball standards earlier this year, needs extensive upgrades and renovations to bring it back to a professional level, but Munson and Nigh have viewed it as a cheaper and better option for city taxpayers.
“I want baseball in Washington County. I want baseball in Hagerstown, and I am willing to make the necessary decisions to keep it here,” Munson said. “I do not want it downtown nor do I believe — as the election indicated — do the citizens of Hagerstown want it downtown. But I do not want baseball to leave. I am convinced that we will never get it back again.”
Munson recalled a presentation by Suns minority owner Tony Dahbura to the city council earlier this year that laid out a large renovation project at Municipal Stadium that could cost around $10 million.
“I don’t know if the Suns were totally behind his proposal ... but I think we have to seriously look at that kind of proposal again and try to make arrangements with the Suns, find something they would back,” he said.
The ownership of the low-level Class A Suns, whose player-development contract with the Washington Nationals expires Dec. 31, have indicated to city officials that they do not want to play at Municipal Stadium anymore, Metzner has said. This prompted the city’s push for the downtown site, which also was to help revitalize Hagerstown’s struggling urban core.
Before that, Quinn had entertained moving the club to Winchester, Va., but the deal fell through.
Nigh said she would like to keep the team, but should the Suns decide to leave it’s still possible for the city to field an independent league team.
“I think baseball should remain here, but it all depends if Quinn wants to play ball,” Nigh said.
Councilmen Martin E. Brubaker and Kristin B. Aleshire both said that they have not had conversations with Suns officials since taking office Nov. 26, but they would be in favor of trying to find a way to keep the team here.
“I’m not of the mindset that simply because one idea doesn’t work that you abandon the idea as a whole,” said Aleshire, who later said he actually favors pursuing a project to boost the educational focus in Hagerstown’s core over a stadium project. “... (Education) is what we as a city and county and state have invested the lion’s share of our public funding into over the last 10 years.”
Gysberts and Brubaker both said the council needs to sit down and come up with some ideas as to where they should go next, whether that’s another stadium project in a different location or a different redevelopment effort all together.
“I don’t think we should give up. I think there’s probably enough interest in a Plan B,” Brubaker said. “If we let them go, that may be forever.”