Search This Blog

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Citizen Think Tank on the Proposed New Stadium

     Tonight I was invited to attend an impromptu meeting of community leaders and candidates for mayor and city council who are concerned about the proposed new Suns stadium...for whatever reason. Since the community meeting tomorrow night is a presentation by the current elected city officials who have already decided that a new stadium is the best path for the Hagerstown community and taxpayers, I wanted to attend a pre-meeting where I could actually have a voice. I was told that the media would be there. I had my doubts that they would show, but they did. I am anxious to see if it was covered adequately and fairly.
     Those running for office who were in attendance were David Gysperts (D) for mayor and five candidates for city council: Penny Nigh (D), Jonathan Burrs (R), Kristin B. Aleshire (D), Jeffrey Coney (R), and Chris Kelly (R). County Commissioner Terry Baker (R) was in attendance but left early. Also in attendance was myself representing the Hagerstown TEA Party; three residents of the C.W. Brooks Building, which is a 60-unit building for seniors located at 45 W. Washington Street; three long-time residents/homeowners on Summit Avenue; petition creators Barbara Hovermill and Julie Rivett; and four relatively shorter-term residents of the area.
   Ms. Rivett led the meeting and she started off by saying that this was a place to have our voices heard. She referred to Jonathan Burrs' description of the group as a "citizen think tank." It was a very informal and relaxed atmosphere. She asked that the meeting begin with going around the table and everyone introducing themselves and saying something about why they were there and that we end with the candidates each having time to share final thoughts on the stadium and also what they would recommend to revitalize downtown. I will combine the candidate's beginning and ending statements together. I did not have time after the meeting to confirm the names of residents that spoke, so I put in brackets the names that I heard.
   The residents from the C.W. Brooks Building said that 50 out of 60 units are against the location for the new stadium. They feel that the current elected officials are not listening to them and that their mind is set. They feel that they do not care about seniors. 
   One long-term resident [Marsha Toder] thinks that it is odd that so many people are against the location for a variety of reasons and yet they proceed. Another long-term resident [Harold Wells], who has lived on Summit Avenue for 67 years was very passionate about what he calls "ground zero." Harold feels that it will be the final destruction of his beloved Hagerstown. He remembers the city as a thriving hub to surrounding areas that "had everything." His beloved YMCA and the hospital where many of our citizens were born have been destroyed. He feels that the town is dead. He is terrified to open his door after dark. There is already garbage, dead animals, and defecation between the houses there on Summit Avenue and he wonders what new horror this will bring. He is encouraged to see people in opposition meeting and getting active because he said, "I thought I was alone."
   One resident [Chris Coleman] stated that he is concerned about the fireworks and finances. He joked that there are already two questionable real estate deals that were recently made public. Why shouldn't he be suspicious of their insistence on this site? 
   Another man [Doug Zeruba] moved to Summit Avenue from Frederick. He spoke as a business owner stating that the Suns team is a business. Baseball is a business. It is a private business and he can't see why they are getting help from local government. He said, "It is like saying that I want to bring my jewelry business to town and asking them to build me a mall!" He said that for the price of the new stadium the city could give free rent to every empty store front for 10 years. This is a windfall for the team owners. Why don't we buy the team and upgrade the stadium? He claims that he wanted to bring his high-end jewelry business to Hagerstown and that the city kept trying to push him to open in the north end. He made the group laugh when he stated that he is a very liberal Democrat and yet he finds himself voting for a Republican and even agreeing with a TEA party person (I had just given my take on the project). I introduced myself briefly after the meeting to show him that I didn't have any devil horns growing out of my head. 
   Barbara Hovermill said that she has lived in the county since 1960, and she is often asked what is her stake in this issue. She said that she simply is a taxpayer. She feels that government has no place in this. If you can't afford it you shouldn't do it. Governments at every level from local to federal are not listening to the people. At the proposed site there are streams and rocks that will require blasting, yet they can't handle a little rock in the field and a little water? She says, and I concur, that the city has not kept up Municipal Stadium. It's a mess! She said that if we can put a man on the moon we can upgrade Municipal Stadium.
   Candidate Jeff Coney said that he does not see retail ever being a part of revitalization. He thinks those days are over and that it isn't the life cycle of American cities. He thinks that we need to draw professional service businesses, such as engineering and architectural ("white collar") services, and that some retail may rise up to support them. He thinks that the placement of the new stadium is inappropriate and not financially sound and that they "probably should stick to the current site." He said that if they do build a multi-use facility that it should include an exhibit hall for trade shows.
   Candidate Chris Kelly stated that the city should give grants to start-up businesses in the same way that they would secure a loan from a bank. He has concerns about the location of the proposed new stadium, and in particular, that the old church cemetery may still have bodies that weren't moved  because they were too decomposed when a past construction project necessitated relocating the cemetery. He thinks that Municipal Stadium should be refurbished instead. He also would support a small charge on the water bill to help pay for sidewalks. He thinks something should be done about the new recycle containers should not be allowed to sit out all week.
   Candidate Kristin B. Aleshire said that this kind of meeting is important and reminded us that he attended many of them when he was in office in times past. He then stated that there is a difference between opinion and fact. So far wherever he has heard discussion on the stadium it has been only opinion or conjecture. He needs to see a lease agreement, an environmental study, a financial plan, and an unbiased feasibility study before he can say if he is for or against it. He needs details. I wasn't clear, so I asked him, "So if these four things were proven favorable you would be for it?" He said "No! I will explain." I got the impression that he thought I was a TEA Party attack dog just for asking the question. I wanted to say, "Dude! I voted for you for county commissioner and I plan to vote for you for city council! Relax!" I just quietly listened to a lengthy explanation to why he voted to purchase the PNC Bank Building when he was previously in office. This was definitely off topic, but it was in the Herald Mail that morning so I just let him go. Like I said, it was lengthy with a convoluted thought process and a long-term plan that never happened because "it didn't make enough of the right people happy." OK. Then he finally tied his vision for an upgraded Municipal Stadium into that vision. In short it was to move the stadium property back further into Hager Park, knock down the electric plant, make the recycle plant pay the money it owes to the city, and move Hagerstown Spring Works to the now-empty electric plant lot. Then he wanted me, I guess the Conservative in the room, to answer for the local state delegation as to why they have been silent on this issue when they were so vocal against a mere $200,000 for the relocation of the Antietam Fire Company. I think they will be plenty vocal once it is presented to them next session. Asking me to speak for them seemed like a deflection from my question to him, but whatever.  My research tonight found  the following excerpt from a December 30, 2011 article in the Herald Mail on the subject: 
Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, attempted to get a $200,000 bond bill. 
But two Republican delegates who represent Washington County — Andrew A. Serafini and LeRoy E. Myers Jr. — lobbied the House's capital budget subcommittee to deny the request. They said Republicans in the delegation were opposed to bond-bill-funded projects because of the state's financial problems.
I am guessing that the local delegation is waiting until it is presented to them in session. We know that Delegate Donaghue is for the new stadium. He is the one local delegate who has no qualms about spending taxpayer money. Senator Shank and Delegate Serafini attended the first joint meeting of the Washington County Commissioners and the Hagerstown Mayor and City Council to discuss the proposed stadium. For my account of that meeting go to
   Candidate Penny Nigh said that she is a good listener and  troublemaker. She said that we first need to know what money is available. We need to draw people in from outside the city. Developers tell this city what to do. A prospective business owner was told in the past that South Potomac Street "was taken," indicating that the developer in that block was controlling things and that the city likes to pick and choose .There is nothing for the seniors in the city anymore: no grocery store, no drug store, no hospital or urgent care facility, and no senior center. There is no urgent care because the hospital doesn't want one in the city. The city needs a full-time experienced grant writer. 
     Candidate David Gysperts stated that we need to change the way that we do business in Hagerstown because the process affects the product. The people should have more of a voice.  He thinks that it is suspicious and/or stupid not to have one regular citizen on the stadium task force. He wonders how the city can say that we need to build a new stadium at that site in order to revitalize downtown, yet take it from those on the East End. He is for upgrading Municipal Stadium. He said to make the water there an amenity instead of an enemy and that we need a broader vision for the city that isn't limited to downtown.  He thinks that the current administration tries to pick winners and losers with the approval process for new businesses. He said that people have been told that "we aren't interested in that type of business." He feels that the elected leaders are deaf and not listening to the people. The city needs to draw more people with disposable income to live in town. Because Hagerstown only has 42% home ownership, he thinks the city should revisit an old plan to build high-density town homes.  He believes that we need more "urban pioneers" that are professionals, artisans, and manufacturers. He suggested that we bring broadband to downtown and make it an e-hot spot for anyone living, working, or playing downtown. He thinks that city council meetings should be streamed free on-line instead of having to watch it on Antietam Cable.
   Candidate Jonathan Burrs said that the process has lacked logic. He has reached out to economists and none of this makes sense economically. He said he has enough information from economists to make a decision before seeing any report the city may produce. If you've done the research there is enough information. Studies show that there is more economic development potential with a historic upgrade than with a new stadium. A classic ballpark with a classic town theme would be something to build on. It has to be more than baseball. Ashville, NC developed around their proximity to the Appalachian Trail. Even a McDonalds there is a tourist attraction because it is so unique. Towns that take what makes them unique and develop a theme around it are successful. We need a comprehensive plan that is implemented in phases. In 1996 Hagerstown was rated as one of the top safest places in the country. In 1997 it started downward and now it is not even in the top 20 in Maryland. The opportunity is now. We also need to ask for the Marc train to come to Hagerstown for the commuters.
   I stated that I was there to represent the Hagerstown TEA Party and that we do not support public funding for this project. I feel that the Suns team is a private business that is getting preferential treatment. It is crony capitalism. As a homeowner and taxpayer I am outraged at the process that went awry when the Suns owners demanded a new stadium. The community was led to believe that the Washington Nationals would not be satisfied with an upgrade, but in fact they would be. It was the Suns owners who will not discuss the option of an upgrade. They want a new stadium and that changed the conversation from a $9M-$10M upgrade to a $30M-$40M new stadium. It was then that the city went into secret negotiations and came up with the plan to sell the new stadium concept to the community. The Ripken Study was a made-to-order one-sided presentation that was the kick-off to the new stadium campaign. The we-cannot-upgrade-Municipal-Stadium tours were part of that campaign. The city website was designed to promote the new stadium concept. Now tomorrow night they are finally having a community meeting to sell us on what they have already decided or they would allow someone like Jonanthan Burrs to also present the reasons to consider an upgraded Municipal Stadium. It is an insult and a scam on the community. 
   That said, everyone still needs to show up and be heard and make a public record of your questions and concerns. The meeting starts at 6:00pm at Hagar Hall to the rear of the Clarion Hotel at 901 Dual Highway. See you there!


1 comment:

  1. The Herald Mail did not report that the conversation went from a $9M-$10M upgrade of Municipal Stadium to a $30M-$40M new stadium because THE SUNS OWNERS are demanding it. The Washington Nationals are willing to work with an upgrade. No one will report this.
    Disappointed that they did not report specific concerns that people shared last night. They could have given opponents a voice and they didn't. Not really.,0,1617825.story


I appreciate all comments! It seems that it is a difficult process to comment here...but please try to get them posted. All feedback, positive or negative, will be considered. PLEASE pass this link on to anyone that you think may appreciate reading this blog.

Thank you!