No. 4 Winchester makes pitch for minor league baseball team
Posted: December 29, 2012
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — A pitch to bring minor league baseball to Jim Barnett Park was deemed way out of the strike zone by city residents this year.
In January, city officials unveiled a plan to construct a $15 million multipurpose stadium in the northeastern corner of the park.
The move was considered because a minor league team — later revealed to be the low-level Class A Hagerstown (Md.) Suns — had expressed an interest in relocating to Winchester.
Minor league baseball officials and the Suns’ parent team, the Washington Nationals, had judged Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown unacceptable for long-term use.
Bruce Quinn, principal owner of the Suns, had signed a letter of intent to move the team to Winchester if city officials were ready to begin stadium construction by April 17 and if a lease agreement was in place at that time.
The Winchester Economic Development Authority (EDA) would have built and owned the stadium. In addition to minor league games, it would have played host to high school and college games, concerts and other community events.
The project, city officials said, would be paid for with bonds to be repaid with new tax revenues generated at the site. The Virginia General Assembly passed a bill authorizing Winchester to receive all state sales taxes generated at the site for 35 years or until the bonds were repaid, whichever occurred first.
The stadium was a hot topic in the city for nearly two months.
Proponents said building the stadium and landing the team would raise Winchester’s profile as a city, drawing more visitors and providing an additional attraction for existing and future residents.
City officials viewed it as an economic development tool, something companies wanting to relocate would find attractive.
Critics, however, came out in droves at two public hearings about the concept, and the councilors were presented a petition with 1,964 signatures gathered during a one-week period.
Some opponents questioned whether the finances would work; some said traffic would be horrific; some raised the question of alcohol use within what currently are the park’s boundaries (alcohol isn’t allowed on park property).
But the biggest complaint seemed to be the loss of park land, especially since the project was seen to benefit a private, for-profit entity — the Suns.
As all this was under way, officials in Hagerstown were scrambling to develop a ballpark proposal of their own in an attempt to keep the team from leaving.
In March, public outcry prompted the City Council to vote 8-0 against using park land for the stadium.
That, however, wasn’t the city government’s last out.
Within weeks, officials were considering two parcels off South Pleasant Valley Road for a potential ballpark-retail complex, with the Suns’ owners putting $10 million into the project. Quinn’s investment was needed to cover land costs, an expense that wouldn’t have existed with the park site.
At this point, exactly what will happen hasn’t been determined.
The initial concept for a downtown Hagerstown stadium appears doomed, but Quinn recently proposed building a ballpark at another site.
Meanwhile, city officials say they’re still interested in landing a minor league team affiliated with a major league club.
However, they insist that no city tax dollars will be used for the project, so a public-private partnership with new tax revenues covering the stadium’s bond payments is the most likely route for professional baseball coming to Winchester.
— Contact Vic Bradshaw at email@example.com