County Considers Making Pitch For Minor-league Team

Hagerstown Suns Owner Eyes Arundel, Prince George's

March 23, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff writer

Like a controversial call at the plate, the question of whether the county should be home to a minor league baseball team is sparking debate among state and county officials.

Michael S. Lofton, the county economic development director, is due to report early this week to County Executive Robert R. Neall on whether the county has any suitable sites for a stadium to accommodate a Double A or Triple A baseballfranchise.

Lofton has been studying the baseball proposal since Neall met March 5 with Peter M. Kirk, the principal owner of the Hagerstown Suns and Frederick Keys.

Kirk said after the meeting that he would liketo build a stadium and locate a minor league franchise in either Anne Arundel or Prince George's county.

Kirk said he asked for the session because he is "exploring all the alternatives." He plans to move the Suns from Hagerstown after the 1992 season and is due to tell Eastern League team owners where he intends to put the franchise by the end of the month. Eventually, he said he also would like to win a Triple A franchise for the area.

Neall said Friday that despite thecounty's fiscal constraints, he feels compelled to explore the issuebecause the economic benefits may outweigh any initial costs.

"We'll have to look at the numbers," Neall said. "I'm not going to say yes or no until we see what the dollars and cents of it is. . . . There could be a real economic benefit to the deal."

State Del. Charles J. Ryan, the Prince George's County Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee that would approve necessary state bond moneyfor such projects, is convinced a minor league team would be an asset for either Prince George's or Anne Arundel.

"We've got to work to keep these kinds of assets in Maryland," he said, noting that the Suns were being wooed by city officials in Wilmington, Del.

But County Council Chairman David Boschert firmly believes that "no public money" should be spent on a stadium.

"If the private sector wants to come in here and spend all the money needed, that's fine. But our priority has to be in areas like schools and public safety," he said.

Lofton said he is confining his review to whether there is land available and whether economic benefits would make it worth the costs for such expenses as road improvements and utilities.

County planning officials say a stadium would require 35 acres: 10 acres for the ballpark and another 25 acres for open space and a 3,000-space parkinglot.

According to a 1987 report by the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, a minor league franchise on the Lower Eastern Shore would have generated $3.1 million in gross sales for such items as restaurant meals, hotel rooms, fuel and souvenirs over the course of a 70-game season.

"It's the kind of thing that can really provide an economic boost," said Carol Fox King, a spokeswoman for the DEED office.

Kirk has said he would still like to locate a Triple A franchise in the Bowie-Annapolis corridor, but that his firstconcern is finding a home for the Suns. A stadium would cost about $9 million, excluding costs to purchase land, he said.

Kirk had worked out a proposal last year to locate a Triple A franchise in Bowie,but it fell through when the Class AAA owners chose a competitor's offer. The Bowie proposal was cobbled together with a financing package that included $4.5 million in state bond money, Kirk's $1.5 millionand a pledge of $3 million from Prince George's County.

Lofton said that much money isn't going to be offered by Anne Arundel County.

"Mr. Neall has made it pretty clear that he's in no position to doanything like that," Lofton said.

But whatever it can offer, the county faces competition from Prince George's County.

Timothy Ayers, a spokesman for Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, said that Prince George's is still working with Kirk to attract a minor league franchise, and that the two counties are competing forthe franchise.

"I guess you'd say that, yeah, it's a competition kind of thing," Ayers said.

He said the financing package that included the pledge of $3 million in Prince George's county money was based on the failed bid for a Triple A team.

But with the county's fiscal constraints, any new deal would likely involve less money, he said.

"Now we're looking at a Double A team, so the feeling is we'dhave to restructure the whole deal," Ayers said. "We just want to see what kind of deal they could put together for him."

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