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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

METZNER DOES EPIC TURNAROUND ON NEW SUNS STADIUM

   Hagerstown City Council Member Lewis Metzner (Democrat), one of the strongest proponents of the proposed new Suns stadium second only to past-mayor Robert Bruchey, did a complete turnaround at the mayor and council meeting, shocking many. This was the first time that this new mayor and council spoke publicly about the project since winning the election in November.
   Metzner began by stating that he had been for the new downtown stadium all along, but not at any cost. He believes that the project would cost at least $25M wherever it is built. He said, "the Chamber of Commerce has sent us many nice things...everything but money." This was after the Chamber paid for a full page ad in the Herald Mail imploring the new mayor and council to proceed with the initial proposal. The logos of about 20 businesses, many not located in downtown Hagerstown, were displayed in the ad as a show of support for the project. He pointed out that none of them offered to invest money in the project. This is the second public criticism against the Chamber in one month, following the public rebuke by the Washington County Delegation for their lack of support in Annapolis.
   Metzner went on to say that the previous proposal was expected to cost between $30M to $40M. He stated that not one member of the previous administration thought that it was possible without the phantom $15M donor. He surprised the room when he stated,
"We don't have the funding to meet the demands of the Suns. They came to us demanding a new stadium and we jumped to their demands! They are demanding a new stadium by April 2014 and that just isn't possible."
   Metzner revealed that there are other teams who have asked to play in Hagerstown who are willing to play at the Municipal Stadium. He said that if the people want to revitalize downtown than lets build a stadium there.
 "But if it's about baseball lets give them baseball. Maybe that will mean another team because we just can't meet the demands of the Suns. Maybe if we submit an RFP [Request for Proposal] it would lessen the demands." 
   The conversation started when the  mayor asked each of the council members to state where they stood on the stadium. Council Member Munson (Republican) started by categorically stating that he is against a downtown stadium. He said that he knocked on 9,000 doors talking to at least 4,500 people and only 55 were for the stadium downtown. He stated that the people did want to keep the Suns and did want a stadium, but not downtown, and he was going to do what he told the people he would do if he were elected.
   Council Member Kristen Alshire (Democrat), reiterated earlier statements that it comes down to affordability and reasonableness of cost for him. The new proposal to locate a new stadium on the East End depends on about half of the funding needed for the first proposal. He reminded everyone the terms presented by Suns owner Mr. Quinn: $3M form the city, $3M from the county, $6M from the state, $6M from the Suns, and $3M from outside investors. He noted that with the original proposal the cost estimates kept rising and the private investors never came forward. He stated that he would need to set a ceiling on the costs, and if the project exceeded those costs he would no longer support it. He would also need to see private investors coming forward.
   Council Member Martin Brubaker (Democrat) stated that it will probably cost just as much to build on the East End as downtown (Munson agreed). He went on to say that since he thought the cost would be equal, he thinks that the stadium should be built downtown to spin off other investment. However, he admitted being discouraged that no outside private investors came forward, besides the phantom $15M donor, which would mean funding the project completely with public money. "...so it doesn't seem viable." Brubaker, in my humble opinion, later behaved in a manner unbecoming of an elected official when the mayor stated his position on the stadium.
   Council Member Penny Nigh (Democrat) gave another perspective on the downtown-or-not-downtown argument when she asked City Engineer Rodney Tissue what was the distance between Municipal Stadium and the city line. He stated that it is 4,000 feet or 3/4 of a mile. She said simply, "Keep it on the East End." She reminded everyone that the Suns originally offered to invest $6M, but have since lowered that amount to $3M, and that the county rescinded funding that was promised when the project took a turn towards the East End. Nigh said, "Mr. Quinn needs to figure it out now."
   Mayor David Gysperts (Democrat) said that he thinks all options need to be on the table and that "the downtown site remains on my menu of options." Most opponents of the downtown site thought that he was against it during the election. Then the mayor stated that he liked the old hospital site for the stadium. This is when Brubaker mouthed to the audience, "Is he crazy? Is he drunk?"  Gysperts went on to say that he is no engineer, but he did not think that the  rubble issue at the hospital site would be a problem. He said, "it is literally 4 blocks from the original site and we do not need 65 more townhomes downtown."
   At this point I had to leave for another meeting, but as I was leaving I heard Metzner say that wherever the stadium is built they need to do things differently than the previous administration (he was a member). He wants this administration to be more transparent and keep the public informed every step of the way. What a novel idea. I like it.
 
 

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