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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

IMPROVED STADIUM PROPOSAL STILL A BURDEN TO TAXPAYERS

   The mayor and city council have changed. The proposed location of the new Suns stadium has changed. The process seems to have changed. The public funding and crony Capitalism continue. 
   Majority owner Bruce Quinn finally addressed the mayor and council yesterday. He began by reading a lengthy prepared statement at an amazing speed, followed by a lot more fast talking that was hard to follow. The mayor and council had the advantage of a handout of the presentation. Council member Munson requested a copy of his written opening remarks. Just to be clear, I am not insinuating the negative connotation of a "fast talker." The man just talks fast! 
   He began with the obligatory congratulations on the election. A special thanks was given to council members Metzner and Brubaker for standing with him from the beginning and continuing to support the project. He even had a "mom story" for council member Nigh...she didn't look moved by it or impressed. 
  He then said he would give a 9-month summary of events, as if any of us needed one. He started with the word "misconceptions" and that always raises a red flag with me. That usually means nobody bought the intended perception. Right off he intimates that the Washington Nationals would not allow the Suns to play at a renovated Municipal Stadium. That is not true. They will not allow use of Municipal Stadium in its current state, but they are open to using it if it were upgraded. 
  He wanted to make a few things clear:
1. The Suns owners offered no advice on the location of the Baltimore Street site. 
2. The Suns were not involved in any way with the mystery donor.
3. The Suns provided no input of the first rendering of the site on Baltimore Street.
4. The Suns have incurred $200,000 in legal fees on their own behalf and on behalf of the City as well.
5. The City has not done its part by applying to the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) for funds.

   Admittedly, I am no expert on sports, sports facilities, or the MSA. I just wanted to know if applying for funds from them is applying for taxpayer money. It doesn't state that anywhere on their website, but after several on-line searches, I think I am safe in saying yes it is taxpayer money. The only site that clearly states that is Wikipedia: 
The Authority is a public corporation of Maryland which is authorized to issue tax-exempt bonds for financing its operations. The proceeds from the sale of those bonds and any other revenues collected are deposited in the Maryland Stadium Authority Financing Fund. 
   Mr. Quinn then rattled off a list of expenditures that the Suns have paid as if we should be grateful that he is maintaining his own business environment. That works for a lot of people, but I think those expenses are to be expected. Even if Municipal Stadium is in bad shape, and we all know it is, surely he knew that when he bought the Suns and afterall, he only pays $1 annually in rent.
   The Suns, via Mr. Quinn, is now proposing the East End as a site for a new Suns stadium. Congratulations to those community activists who fought hard to protect their neighborhood! He  said it would remedy the blight on the East End and I agree. I did find it a strange argument to say in the original proposal that we will take this "great prospect" out of one neighborhood and place it in another in order to revitalize it. Anyway, he wants the city to demolish Municipal Stadium, demolish the Municipal Electric Light Plant (MELP), and perhaps buy or gain use of the 1st Urban Fiber plant. He wants a new multi-use facility (Suns stadium) near the old stadium site. According to Quinn, "these are all things that the city needs to do anyway." 
   When he spoke of the proposed financing of this new vision, he was talking so fast that I need to purchase the DVD of the meeting so that I can capture all that he said. I wish that I had a copy of the handout. The Herald Mail printed some figures, but I've learned that  I can't rely only on them for information. I do know that he said that he is willing to put up the initial $3M to get things started. Thank you Mr. Quinn! So very generous of you.
   Most of the council discussion was between known proponents council members Metzner and Brubaker. There were no surprises there, except for the repeated call for open public meetings going forward. Council member Munson stated that during his door-knocking campaign the public expressed displeasure with site location, but that all wanted to retain the Suns. Council member Nigh remained silent, and I would have like to have heard from her. 
   I was really waiting to hear from council member  Alshire who is known for his thoroughness of research,  thoughtful consideration, and conservative financial practices. This is what he said, 
"It comes down to two things: limitation of resources and reasonable fairness."
 Mr. Quinn had this deer in the headlights moment and stammered that he'd have to think about that for a minute. [Wait, is somebody actually stopping to think? Where is the unconditional love? Wasn't expecting intelligent discussion. What do I do?]  Council member Alshire went on to say that the limitation of resources was satisfactory to him if the project proceeds on the East End and if the city continues to build on an education theme in the Hagerstown core. As far as reasonable of fairness he did not think that the cost of the original proposal was reasonable nor the financing of it fair. The cost kept escalating and private investment was not forthcoming. The proposed cost of the new proposal seems more reasonable to him. However, he would like to see the city's $400,000 contribution divided between the project and the city's core. In addition, he would need at least one third of outside private investment (currently missing from this proposal) before he could vote to proceed. The Hagerstown TEA Party's stance is that it should be 100 percent privately funded, but council member Alshire's statement is at least a move in the right direction. Unfortunately, with the required expediency (before the 1st pitch of next season) I don't get the feeling that the mayor and council as a whole will hold out for that one third if it doesn't materialize. I think that Metzner, Brubaker, and Munson will be the key players in this arena.
   Mr. Quinn did have some remarks about the Suns being a business that should get special treatment from the city:
"The Suns team is more than a business. The Suns provides income to at least 100 other businesses. The new facility will be more than a Suns stadium; it will be a recreation center for the city."
I think there are similar businesses and projects that could stand equal to the Suns in that regard and I still think that they should not receive public funds in order to enrich their business and themselves. Mr. Quinn stated that he is not in it for the money. Really? He claims to have never made a cent on the Suns. That sounds like a bad investment to me. He claims he doesn't care if he ever makes a cent of off the Suns. Can we get that in writing?  
   In summary, I like the proposal. I think it would be a fantastic opportunity to clean up the East End in a big way.  I'm not convinced that restoration of Municipal Stadium isn't the better and less costly idea. According to their website, the MSA encourages historical restoration. I remain firm that the Suns business should provide the majority of the financing with private investors joining them in the associated cost and risk of this project. The city will make money on the taxes and utilities just as they do on every other business in Hagerstown. The taxpayer doesn't have the money, not on any level of government, and should never bear the risk associated with private investment. 



   

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