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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

THAT'S THEIR STORY AND THEY ARE STICKING TO IT

     
    As I look at my notes and think about the Municipal Tours tonight all that I can think is that they still aren't being honest with the people of this town. Overall, I personally and the Hagerstown TEA Party are really only concerned with the funding. I only care how they are going to pay for it, but as this process moves forward it becomes apparent that the flow of information to the public is being managed in a way that breeds suspicion. Tonight they doubled down and stuck to their story. The truth is that the tours and everything that they pointed out as deficiencies, and I have no doubt that they exist, are irrelevant because the Suns owners are demanding a new stadium. These tours were all smoke and mirrors. 
   As luck would have it though, I happen to be in the tour with one of the owners, Tony Dahbura. I wanted to ask him directly and publicly if it was true that the Suns playing in an upgraded Municipal Stadium was "non-negotiable" as I clearly heard stated in a city council meeting. It was stated that the Washington Nationals were willing to work with an upgrade and that they began their "talks" with the owners based on that understanding only to find out that the owners were not. Councilman Metzner stated that, "It turned out that the left hand hadn't been talking to the right hand." The owners of the Suns would not even discuss upgrading the old stadium. Winchester, VA was competing for the Suns at the time, so when the owners presented the multi-use concept as an economic and community development silver bullet to mayor and council, they pounced on it.  
    The Suns came up with this concept back in April of 2011 when they approached the mayor and council  and they approved a list of nongame-day events. According to the Herald Mail (HM), “The Suns sought to host additional events at the stadium to maximize its use, profitability and offerings for the communityGeneral Manager Bill Farley said. The new (Suns) ownership wanted to utilize it for more than just baseball." This is something they had as part of their business plan for a long time.  
   So we have the owners salivating over their financial prospects if they can just get the elected officials to build them their multi-use dream stadium using taxpayer funds. We have the elected officials scared to lose the Suns to Winchester, and I will assume that they really believe in this revitalization of downtown dream...and then off they go to figure out how to make all of their dreams come true. But they forgot about the people of Hagerstown. They forgot to ask them. They forgot to give them options. They forgot to get an unbiased study. Worst of all they forgot to keep them informed. Now the deal is all but done, and it's time to sell it to the people.
   For those of you who weren't able to attend this charade, I will try to paint you a picture. The evening began with the ever pleasant city staff. I have worked with most of these people as a city volunteer for several years now, and I know they are good people, and they have been very kind to me. I don't like being on opposite sides of this issue. This is not fun for me.  
  So City Manager, Bruce Zimmerman, opens with an introduction and acknowledges that there are many "sides" to this issue and mentions "respect" several times. He tells us that this administration has always stressed "living within their means." He gave some statistics to try to back that up and I am sure those statistics were valid, but there is no possible way that they can make that claim and then propose to spend way over $30M on a new Suns stadium in this economy and sound like they are leveling with us.  
   Next up, City Engineer, Rodney Tissue, who to me is the rock star of city employees. I don't know how he does all that he does! He is just doing his job and speaking to the packet that was handed out as we entered the stadium. He came at it from an ingenious angle. "Nothing in this stadium is older than 30-years-old except the bleachers." Good one! Kind of takes the historic out of Municipal Stadium for those who want to upgrade Municipal Stadium based on historic value. Sort of, but not really. Good try though.
   He says he wants to talk to us about "What are the conditions here that we are even having this conversation?" Uh, that would be that the Suns owners won't allow the city to fix these deficiencies because they want a new stadium!
   Then we are given the We Must Keep Up With The Joneses speech with color pictures of all of the amenities that other stadiums have and that we don't. I can hear myself telling my kids, "I don't care how many of your friends have that, we can't afford it!"
    Next are the color pictures of flooded conditions. I think at the last city council meeting someone asked how often has the stadium been flooded and he said "really flooded maybe three times." Three times in 80 years. He did state that there is some flooding  annually that causes game cancellations, but he didn't have any annual expenses paid out due to flooding. 
   We were told that it's not even about baseball. It is about community gatherings. No, pretty sure it's about baseball. I've been to Suns games. I may have a little small talk with a person or two, but it's no social event where everybody knows your name. 
   Finally we are given pictures of areas of the stadium in non-compliance or where there were recommendations for improvements. Mr. Tissue ends with, "The point is, you'd have to do a radical or complete upgrade." True. In December of 2011 the Herald Mail reported that the owners of the Hagerstown Suns would like to see construction on a $9 million to $10 million Municipal Stadium remodeling project beginning at the close of the 2012 baseball season. My how things changed when they got the upper hand with a bid from Winchester.
   I waited for city staff to say it, but they never did. All of these deficiencies can be fixed! The Washington Nationals are willing to let the Suns play at Municipal Stadium if they are fixed! The Suns owners will not play here under any circumstances (at least when Winchester was still interested). That's their story and they are sticking to it. Then we are taken on a tour to see these problems first hand. Like I said, I don't doubt that they exist, but they are smoke and mirrors tonight.  
    I will just mention that the crowd at this point wanted a Q&A from their seats and were getting quite vocal asking for it. There is no way to know who these people were or from which opposition group they were from...could have even just been individuals. I can say that it was not the TEA Party. Some of us had shirts and signs, but we were not yelling demands. I found it a little amusing that this one pro-new stadium woman yacked so much about how rude that those people were, and for so long, that I had to move away so that I could hear the tour!
    Now to the meat of the evening. The tour with Tony Dahbura. At the end of the tour people started to ask questions. I asked him directly, "Isn't this all irrelevant? Isn't it true that the Suns owners (he is one of four) will not allow the Suns to play here under any conditions?" He looked away and said, "I don't think so." Others asked how much it would cost to renovate the stadium and he said $15M (he said $9-$10M a year ago for an extreme makeover). I asked him again, if the $15M renovation was offered would he allow the Suns to play at this stadium. He said, "It's apples and oranges." Huh? What in the world does that mean? Finally, I asked him one more time, "So to be clear, is the possibility of the Suns playing at this stadium non-negotiable?" He said, very coldly, "Everything is negotiable. Do YOU have $15M?" 
    Well, Mr. Dahbura and company, do YOU have [way] upwards of $30M? No? And why should the taxpayer buy you, your business, an expensive stadium when this one can be renovated for half of the price? Why can't you get out there and do the work to get investors to invest in your business? Why can't you and the city partner together to get investors?
     Smoke and mirrors.  
    

   

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