More than 100 people turned out Wednesday night to get a closer look at the challenges the city of Hagerstown must tackle if they were to renovate or rebuild Municipal Stadium and bring the 82-year-old ballpark back up to professional baseball standards.
Those in attendance — a mix of supporters as well as opponents of the city’s proposed downtown multiuse sports and events center that would be the new home of the Hagerstown Suns — were given a brief overview of the problems at the current stadium before touring the park.
Major problem areas include insufficient fan amenities, press and media facilities, administration areas, team clubhouses, dugouts and the actual playing surface, according to city engineer Rodney Tissue.
Expanding the facility to bring it up to Major League Baseball standards is viewed as just about impossible due to site constraints from neighboring properties and the field itself is prone to heavy flooding that doesn’t drain well after rain storms, Tissue said.
Amenities at modern ballparks include a regulation field with adequate drainage, group suites, field-facing concessions and concourses and party decks that can help create a community gathering place that isn’t just about baseball, Tissue said. He also pointed out that Municipal Stadium has ranked last out of all 14 teams in the South Atlantic League in just about every field categories as rated by team turf managers.
Overall, Tissue called the night a success because of all the interactions they had with citizens and the questions they were able to answer.
“I thought we had a really good discussion,” he said.
Common questions related to what other sites have been considered to build a new ballpark and what the cost to fully renovate Municipal Stadium would be. On one of the tours, Suns minority owner Tony Dahbura told one person that he estimated a full rebuild of the stadium on East Memorial Boulevard could cost around $15 million, but it still would have inadequate parking areas and the facility would have to be rebuilt on the existing footprint, both challenges in modernizing the park.
The city has been considering the downtown multiuse stadium, estimated to cost around $30 million, both as a new home for the low-level Class A club but also as a way to help spur economic development in the city’s struggling downtown.
Todd Bolton of Smithsburg said the tour gave him a better understanding of exactly how bad conditions have gotten at Municipal Stadium.
“As much as I love coming here ... it’s beyond repair now,” he said. “The things that are necessary to bring it up to standard are really not possible within this footprint. The plan that’s being put forth downtown is really I think the way to go.”
Concerns from opponents of a downtown stadium include preserving Municipal Stadium, the proposed location near West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue and public funding going to a private business.
Jim Coyle, a Maugansville resident involved with the local Tea Party, said he’s a Suns fan and supports baseball in the community, but doesn’t want to see the city incur more debt during difficult economic times.
“The $15 million (anonymous) donation would go a long ways, but there’s still a lot of money involved,” he said. “But at the same time, having baseball here in Hagerstown is something that we want.”
The bottom line, according to Tissue, is that Municipal Stadium, which was originally built in 1930 and has seen several facelifts at the East Memorial Boulevard location, is obsolete.
“If you compare this to (other modern minor league stadiums), there’s really no comparison,” he said.