Take me out to the ballgame

Story by Chris Graham
freepress@ntelos.net

baseball-clipart.jpgA 4,200-seat stadium, a $20 million estimated construction cost.
A projected $27 million annual economic impact.
And you wonder why they want to build a minor-league baseball stadium?
They, in this case, being Charles County, Maryland, which on May 2 will open Regency Stadium as the home to the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, a new team in the Atlantic League, an independent minor-league baseball organization.
Do this story here sound familiar at all? The talk in Waynesboro these days is about the efforts of city leaders to bring a minor-league team to the River City to play in a 4,000-seat stadium that would be located on the South River at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The effort would require a total investment of $20 million-plus from the city, the state and private investors, and has been in the works for the past several months.

It has the support of every member of the current Waynesboro City Council that I’ve talked to or seen quoted in the local media, and I think it should be obvious why.

That $27 million annual economic impact figure that they’re looking forward to in Southern Maryland should jump out at you there. And this figure doesn’t include the more short-term boom resulting from the infusion of money related to the construction of the stadium.

The game now is at the stage of trying to get the dollars to work, first and foremost – and this is where I hope that the political leak to the local media that there is a possible deal in the works doesn’t end up aborting the project here in its gestation.

The early indication is that the money from the state might be the hardest to arrange for – though I have to wonder when push comes to shove if this will end up being the case. For example, it’s important to note that there seems to be plenty of money in Richmond to try to lure the Toyotas and SRI Internationals of the world to the Valley, not to mention money for JMU to expand its football stadium in amounts dwarfing what Waynesboro would have to ask for from the General Assembly.

As far as the local money, well, that one will be tough, too, considering the rancor that we’ve seen here in recent months over money going to even basic infrastructure needs. But that having been noted, it does seem here at the outset that there will be support for the local funding from all corners of the political spectrum.

The third leg of the stool is also a challenge – but there are a number of means for getting there, including looking at one way the Southern Maryland stadium received a significant infusion of cash, from the sale of the naming rights to the stadium for nearly $3 million.

Which brings us to the question at the center of this whole issue – namely, are you still wondering why we would want to build a baseball stadium here in Waynesboro?

To me, the project makes too much sense in so many ways. The stadium would be located in the heart of Downtown Waynesboro, which would go from having only a trickle of economic activity today to benefiting in 2009 from the opening of the new and improved Wayne Theatre and then at some point in the thereafter of the opening of the new baseball stadium. So there’s one 45-year-old community problem solved.

Fans from across a wide region stretching from Charlottesville to Staunton to Harrisonburg to Lexington would fill up the downtown stadium 70 nights a year – and then spend more dollars at downtown restaurants and gift shops afterward.

And then … oh, yeah, the stadium would also serve as a great venue for local youth sports, high-school and summer-league tournaments, concerts and other community events.

A revitalized downtown, a spur for regional tourism, a centerpiece for local youth sports and other community activities …

And $27 million a year in economic impact in Waynesboro.

Sounds good to me.

  

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press. He is also a candidate for the open Ward B seat on Waynesboro City Council.

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