ANNAPOLIS — Hagerstown is one signature away from starting a nearly $60 million process for a new multipurpose sports facility.
On Monday, a bill that would allow the Maryland Stadium Authority to serve as project manager for a new facility proposed for Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue cleared its last hurdle in the Maryland General Assembly. The authority can also issue up to $59.5 million in bonds to finance the acquisition, design, construction and related construction expenses.
The bill will now been sent to Gov. Larry Hogan to sign.
Hogan put $8.5 million toward the effort in the most recent supplemental budget, and the General Assembly has earmarked an additional $1.5 million in the recently passed Capital Budget, according to a news release from the Hagerstown/Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, known as Visit Hagerstown.
Unlike previous proposals, the project would not be partially funded by the city.
State Sens. Paul Corderman, R-Washington, and George Edwards, R-Washington/Allegany/Garrett, sponsored the bill, which the Maryland Senate passed 44-0 on March 19. The House of Delegates passed the bill 131-5 on its third reading on Friday, April 9.The Senate passed the bill with House amendments Monday, 46-0.
Visit Hagerstown President Dan Spedden said he could "hardly contain himself" at the bill's passing, especially with only five total votes against.
"In this world with partisan politics so rancid, how are there only five opposition votes for a bill? It's been a great idea all along and the state agrees and supports it," he said.
Spedden said the project has received "so much support" over the years, and he praised the tenacity of those who never gave up.
He also noted the timing, saying that as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be winding down, having a large tourism infrastructure project in the works in downtown Hagerstown is a "big beacon of hope" that will "pay dividends for years to come."
Spedden also thanked Corderman, who he said was handed some data and support from the city and "pushed the bill through the session" to the end.
"This facility will provide significant economic development opportunities and revitalization in an area of our community where it is desperately needed," Corderman said in a text message Monday. "This will provide the investor confidence needed to create the massive economic development initiatives that we have seen in other similarly situated communities. This project has the ability to serve as the anchor to a much larger effort to include multiple housing opportunities, neighborhood revitalization, additional infrastructure and job creation."
Once the Maryland Stadium Authority has completed the design and construction process, the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation will manage and maintain the facility.
Last year, the Hagerstown Suns, a Class A affiliate of Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals, was among several minor league teams eliminated as the result of a reorganization. The Suns played in city-owned Municipal Stadium.
The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball announced earlier this year that it had granted conditional approval for a new member team in Hagerstown, subject to several terms, including constructing a facility that meets or exceeds the league's standards and with the capability to host other sports and entertainment events.
Howard "Blackie" Bowen, CEO and chairman of the board of Ewing Oil Co., would lead the team's ownership group.
"I'm very excited for the opportunity to bring a locally owned, Atlantic League expansion team to Hagerstown," Bowen said in a news release from Visit Hagerstown. "In addition to being a home for this elite professional baseball league, we look forward to using the Hagerstown Multi-Use Sports & Events Facility to host hundreds of other family friendly events each year. The facility will serve as a community gathering place for decades to come, while acting as a catalyst for new investment in the area."
Corderman said previously the facility could also host movie nights, fireworks and other events, and bring more people through the city's downtown to support other businesses in that area.
Hagerstown City Councilman Kristin Aleshire said the approval was "great" for the group and will allow the party the opportunity to go out and privately secure a property. He said the city has made it clear that the venture will be treated like any other private development built in the city.
Hagerstown Mayor Emily Keller said the cost of a new stadium has prohibited progress for a long time, with the "mindset it can't fall on the taxpayer."
"I applaud the creative solution to fund the project," she said, adding she was glad to have Bowen at the helm of the local ownership to "provide the best path forward we have ever had. It's comforting that someone who cares about Hagerstown is the driving force."
Keller said anything that spurs economic development locally is a win.
Maryland State House and USA Today Network reporter Madeleine O'Neill contributed to this story.