Is minor-league baseball good economic development?

Story by Chris Graham

I wanted to learn more about what Waynesboro could be facing if it follows through the very, very preliminary plans that have been put forth regarding the possible location of a minor-league baseball team in the River City.

That’s how I came across Gary Hodge and his 20-year effort to land minor-league baseball in Charles County.

“It’s taken some years to get here,” said Hodge, a member of the Charles County Commission, whose work to bring pro baseball to Southern Maryland will pay off with the Atlantic League opener in Regency Stadium featuring the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs on May 2.

And it took some money to get there. Originally projected to be an $18 million deal, the 4,500-seat Regency Stadium ended up coming in closer to $27 million when all was said and done.

The state of Maryland participated with the county and the private owners of the Blue Crabs franchise as a partner in the development effort. That’s one key difference between the Charles County project and the one proposed in Waynesboro, where Virginia’s state government is not expected to be a willing partner should the effort in Waynesboro ever get to that point.

Another difference – the old saw about the three most important things in real estate being location, location, location.

“We happen to be a fairly cohesive three-county area here that is very historic. We were the first region of Maryland settled back in the 1600s. In that period, the rivers were the connecting point of the community rather than how highways are today. The Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River formed the eastern and western boundaries of our region. So we have a fairly cohesive area here, even though it’s a thousand square miles. And in that area is about, say, 340,000 people,” Hodge said of the location, location, location of Regency Stadium at the nexus of a fairly cohesive geographic region.

“This team will draw from that whole area as well as from the north into the suburbs of Washington. So it should have a good solid market of a half-million people to draw from,” Hodge said.

The Downtown Waynesboro stadium being talked about right now would be well-situated for access to Staunton 10 miles to the west and Charlottesville 25 miles to the east, but would not be as accessible to Harrisonburg 45 minutes to the northwest and Lexington 45 minutes to the southwest.

One similarity worth noting – like Waynesboro, Charles County is hungry for something like a pro-sports franchise to call its own.

“In a rapidly growing suburban community like this, the stadium provides a focal point for the community’s life. I can’t overstate the importance of that,” Hodge said. “You tend in rapidly growing areas like this to have a lack of community center, so to speak. Certainly the stadium during the summer, and we’re planning this to be a year-round facility, with all kinds of activities, even in the middle of winter – we’re planning to have ice-skating and even snowboarding in the winter – this will become a gathering spot for the community year-round.

“The economic statistics are terrific. But the quality-of-life benefits were really what we were aiming at when we embarked in earnest on this project. We are a progressive community. We’re seeking higher-paying jobs and good-quality economic development here. And people that are interested in those kinds of jobs want to have quality amenities around them. They want to have good schools. They want to have recreational opportunities for their children. So we think it was a very good investment to own a stadium outright on day one for one-third of the total cost of the facility that would also deliver those quality-of-life benefits,” Hodge said.

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