By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Local and state officials said at the end of last week that they are cautiously optimistic that the Maryland General Assembly will approve an extra $1.7 million to help pay for construction of a minor league baseball stadium in Waldorf.
On Wednesday, the Charles County commissioners voted unanimously to approve a $19 million stadium construction bid from multinational development firm Skanska. Under a financing agreement approved last year, the county, state and baseball team owner will each pay roughly one-third of the $25.65 million project cost.
That total is more than $4.5 million above the budget set by the commissioners when the project was proposed, but the board voted in favor of the contract with little debate. Commercial construction costs have increased significantly in the past year, and some of the people involved in reviewing the stadium bids said the higher costs have made the original $21 million goal unattainable. Several officials emphasized that the county already had saved money by postponing construction for a year while cost-cutting measures were considered. Two initial project bids were rejected last summer, the lower of which put the cost at about $32 million.
"Just by holding off for a few extra months, we cut costs by $6 million," said Melvin C. Beall Jr., the county's acting director of planning and growth management. "There was really a huge benefit to taking our time."
But the delay also means the General Assembly must vote to add $1.7 million to the $7 million it had agreed to provide for the project, an increase that could be resisted as the state government seeks areas to cut spending. State budget projections for next year show a revenue gap that could reach $1.5 billion.
"I don't think it's going to be easy" to secure the extra funds, said state Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles), who leads the Southern Maryland delegation in the House. "They had kicked in a certain amount of money, and nobody wants to have to ask for more, but hopefully we will be able to all share in that extra cost."
Advocates have billed the 4,500-seat stadium as the future centerpiece of leisure offerings in fast-growing Charles County. It would be on 43 acres on Piney Church Road in St. Charles, and its neighbors would include a new county high school that is scheduled to open in 2011 and a proposed athletic center for the College of Southern Maryland.
The stadium would be the home diamond for Southern Maryland Blue Crabs games throughout the summer, but also would host activities such as concerts and home and garden shows that county leaders expect to be major sources of revenue.
"The population has grown and shifted such that professional families expect these sorts of amenities in a central hub," said John Reardon, the county's economic development director. "All of this is coming together to offer quite a nice set [of amenities] to those people."
An economic feasibility study indicated that baseball games would draw about 250,000 visitors a year to Charles County, Reardon said, a number that would rise considerably if the county can draw high-profile musical acts and other offerings. All told, the facility has the potential to bring in more than $3 million in gross revenue, he said.
Beall and other county officials visited a similarly sized stadium in Lancaster, Pa. -- home of the Lancaster Barnstormers, which will be a rival of the Blue Crabs in the Atlantic League -- while considering the potential for non-baseball events at the Waldorf stadium. In addition to hosting musical acts, company retreats and Boy Scout Jamborees, Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster becomes an outdoor skating rink in the winter and a high school graduation stage in the summer. Eight Southern Maryland corporations have agreed to buy luxury boxes at the Waldorf complex, which would be available for their use year-round.
In Lancaster, "it has evolved into a real focal point for the community," said Peter Kirk, chairman of Maryland Baseball LLC, which owns the Blue Crabs. "In a growing area like Southern Maryland, you have a lot of people looking for fun things to do inexpensively, so this will be a real destination."