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WINCHESTER- City officials are negotiating to buy 20 to 25 acres of land in the South Pleasant Valley Road area that could become the home of a complex featuring a multi-use stadium and commercial space.The stadium's major tenant would be the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns, who need a new home because the city's aging Municipal Stadium has been deemed substandard.Details about the potential project were provided by a source with knowledge of the negotiations. The source requested anonymity, but Suns owner Bruce Quinn confirmed that the information was accurate."This is our dream plan," he said. "Nothing is set in stone; this is just a foundation."The plan, Quinn confirmed, includes about 50,000 square feet of retail store and restaurant space that would be built and owned by the Suns. The ownership group would pay about $10 million to develop that portion of the project and would operate a restaurant featuring family-oriented entertainment."We're making an investment in Winchester," he said.City Council President Jeffrey Buettner said that during public hearings and discussion this year over whether to build a stadium in Jim Barnett Park, councilors heard from citizens that there was considerable interest in adding minor league baseball to the city's list of amenities. The park, however, was deemed to be an inappropriate site."We continued to have conversations with the Suns about a more appropriate location in the city of Winchester," Buettner said. "We're looking at a variety of sites in the hopes that we can address the concerns about road accessibility, economic redevelopment benefits and mitigating the negative impacts on neighborhoods."We also have worked with the ownership of the Suns to come up with a plan that would share the risk more appropriately."No one would specify what sites are under consideration. However, two sites in that area with enough land for a project of such a scale are on Legge Boulevard - one near the intersection with Tevis Street and the other behind the Lowe's home improvement store at 2200 S. Pleasant Valley Road and the Apple Blossom Mall.The Winchester Economic Development Authority (EDA) would be involved in the land purchase and complex construction."We're looking at several sites, and there are two or three that are very high up on the list as potential sites," said Jim Deskins, the EDA's executive director. "Discussion of any one site would be way premature."Buettner said city officials hope to have one "identified in short order, but we also have a budget we have to stay in, so negotiations are ongoing." He would not provide further information about the project budget.Until a site is identified, he added, it's impossible to know if stadium concepts developed for the Jim Barnett Park site would work at the new location. However, he said the goal would be to build a facility to serve similar-sized crowds - seating for about 4,000 people and room for about 1,000 more fans in open areas.The target date to begin play in Winchester would be the spring of 2014, Quinn said. The project must be approved by the city and minor league baseball, lease terms must be finalized and financing must be arranged.Quinn said about 1,000 parking spaces would be needed to serve the stadium and retail area.Other concepts for the project that were confirmed by Quinn include:Handley High School and Shenandoah University would be able to play home games in the stadium, which would also host local youth league championships.The stadium would host 10 concerts and five family-oriented conventions annually.The stadium would host a haunted stadium for children in October and a festival of lights in November and December.It would have a lighted ice rink operating from October to March for figure skating and ice hockey.Monday and Tuesday home minor league baseball games would provide fundraising opportunities for local nonprofit organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club of the Northern Shenandoah Valley.The team would hire 10 interns per year from Shenandoah University and employ students, area teachers and senior citizens to work stadium events.The team would work with local businesses to promote crowds and foot traffic and would host many community events.Quinn said stadiums and national restaurant chains have co-located at a site, but he's not aware of a project of this potential size that is geared toward family entertainment.Buettner and Deskins said the project must spark economic development on a larger scale."To make this stadium work," Deskins said, "it needs to be a catalyst for surrounding economic development. It also has to be a multiple-purpose facility and will require 12-month utilization."Buettner said if and when a deal is closer to being finalized, City Council likely will provide public information and comment opportunities similar to those used during the Jim Barnett Park site discussions.Quinn said he plans to hold two meetings in April with potential stadium partners.On April 4, local business owners will be invited to a meeting at Shenandoah University to discuss partnership opportunities with the team.Later in the month, he'll meet with nonprofit groups who would like to participate in the team's fundraising programs. The date and site for that meeting has not been determined.Quinn said he hasn't been part of a retail development before, but he has developed office buildings of more than 200,000 square feet in Florida and Louisiana.Meantime, Hagerstown-area officials have begun discussions regarding the construction of a new downtown stadium.The Washington Nationals, the major league team with which the Suns are affiliated, have told Quinn that he could lose his connection to the team unless a deal for an acceptable ballpark is reached.
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