The Hagerstown City Council is being asked to open the funding of a new ballpark to bid, as a member argues the market should determine where baseball is played in the Maryland city.
Lewis C. Metzner, a member of the city council who in the past supported a proposed downtown ballpark for the Hagerstown Suns (Low Class A; Sally League), is clearly frustrated by the slow pace of financial negotiations on a new ballpark and is calling for the council to speed things up by opening the process to bid. From the Hagerstown Herald Mail:
“How can we responsibly talk about spending the amount of money we’re talking about without putting that out there?” he said during a work session at City Hall. “... I think we should immediately put out an RFP (request for proposals).
“We should invite people in from the minor league industry that’s already had discussions with us, and ask them to make a proposal as it relates to either playing at Municipal, building a new stadium and what they’re willing to put into it,” he said.
It's not clear what set off Metzner past a need to be in the paper: the Suns ownership has already stepped up with a proposal to help fund a ballpark should a $15 million donation fall through, and while there are some small holes in the plans for a $25-million ballpark project, much of the major funding is in place, with proposed Maryland Stadium Authority funding of $10 million to be taken up this year.
However, it's folly to think that there will be a huge bidding war should the ballpark process be open to proposals. The Suns control the territory, so no other Minor League Baseball team can discuss new ballpark. The independent Atlantic League is the logical entity to come in and make a bid, but the economic model for the league doesn't call for new facilities to be funded by team owners; cities and developers have done the brunt of financing for new facilities as of late.
And at some point, the question becomes clearer for Sally League owners and the Suns: Is Hagerstown so great a market that a lot of work needs to be done to retain it? There are other attractive open markets in the Sally League footprint -- though, to keep travel balance, we're told by owners that the Suns would be limited to a move in the northern part of the league footprint -- and surely there's another city willing to talk new ballpark. Hagerstown officials say they may want to dance with a new partner, and maybe it's time for the Suns to do the same.
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