Plans for a minor league baseball stadium in Hughesville took the first step toward reality this week as the Charles County commissioners committed $300,000 to begin the design work for the 4,500-seat ballpark.
The commissioners signed an agreement covering the initial stages of the project with Maryland Baseball LLC, a company that owns and operates minor league stadiums. Of the total estimated cost of $15.7 million, the county would eventually pay one-third, or $5.25 million. Maryland Baseball and the state would finance the additional costs, though the state has not committed to its portion.
At a meeting Tuesday, the commissioners spoke in favor of a Hughesville stadium that would be located along Route 5 just north of Route 231 and could be completed as early as spring 2006.
"We are unanimously in support of this stadium and very excited to become partners," said commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large).
Officials said the ballpark would be a boon for economic development in the region as well as a potential venue for other county events such as car shows, youth sports and the College of Southern Maryland baseball team.
"To bring a field of dreams here to Charles County is something that's long needed, and I think is on the brink of happening," said Commissioner Al Smith (R-Waldorf).
According to a feasibility study by the state Department of Business and Economic Development that was cited by county administrator Eugene Lauer, the stadium could bring in $150,000 per year for the county from admissions and amusement taxes. Other revenue could come from parking fees for special events, he said. The eight-acre stadium site was donated by the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative.
"[The revenue] would go a long way to offset, ultimately, the debt," Lauer said.
The Hughesville stadium would house the fifth minor league team in Maryland, joining those in Bowie, Frederick, Aberdeen and Salisbury. Maryland Baseball owned the franchises in Bowie, Frederick and Salisbury before selling them to Comcast-Spectator, a subsidiary of the cable television giant, in June 2000.
No team has been selected to play at the proposed Hughesville stadium. Peter Kirk, the chairman of Maryland Baseball, said he has discussed the stadium with five minor leagues, but part of the selection of the team depends on whether the Montreal Expos move to Washington or Northern Virginia.
"From the point of view of the community, frankly, it doesn't make a lot of difference," Kirk said. "If you look at Aberdeen, which is the lowest-level rookie team, it's outdrawing many of the Triple-A teams, the highest level."
Bowie Baysox General Manager Mike Munter said from 13 percent to 15 percent of his team's fans come from Southern Maryland, but he couldn't say how a Hughesville team might affect his operation.
"Whether this market can support both teams remains to be seen," he said. "Southern Maryland is a good area for baseball."
The decision to move forward with the stadium comes three months after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announced funding for the Hughesville Bypass, a road project that officials say will help alleviate heavy traffic congestion in the area.
"The stadium should come here regardless of the timing of the bypass," Smith said. "We can get the people there; still, with the roads that we have, the bypass will only make it even more accessible."
But some Hughesville residents and business people said they could not imagine enduring more cars in the area without new roads to hold them.
"It could be a real nightmare. I'm still waiting for the bypass," said Veronica Smith, an antiques dealer in Hughesville. "If it didn't bother the traffic, then I wouldn't have a problem with it."