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Decision on stadium needed by April 17

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Craig Gerhart, interim Winchester city manager, talks to about 100 people who came Tuesday evening to learn about the possibilty of a minor league baseball team coming to the city and the problems involved at Jim Barnett Park. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jim Deskins gives a presentation with data about baseball’s impact in minor league cities. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Timing, traffic, location, noise worries raised at forum

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- City officials must make a decision by April 17 on whether to write a letter of intent to build a new $15 million baseball stadium in Jim Barnett Park and bring a minor league team to the Winchester, and many local residents aren't happy about it.

The timing, traffic, location and noise were just a few of the issues brought up by nearly 100 people who crammed into the Social Hall of the War Memorial Building for an open forum Tuesday evening.

"Why did you wait so long to let the people know," asked Becky Moler, a city resident who also worried about the alcohol sales that would inevitably accompany the move.

Jim Deskins, executive director of the Economic Development Authority, said the original call from a representative of a minor league team that city officials are negotiating with came about six months ago. Officials entered into a nearly $20,000 feasibility study in late October, Deskins said.

While officials said they wanted to disseminate as much information as they could about the new move, they would not disclose the name of the team because of a "confidentiality agreement," but Deskins said the team is under obligation to come to Winchester if city officials produce the letter of intent by April 17. If the team doesn't come, it will have to reimburse the city for initial costs, such as the feasibility study.

Several attendees brought up the Hagerstown Suns in discussion, but officials continued to reaffirm that they couldn't disclose if that is the team in negotiations.

"How about a joint venture between the city of Winchester and Frederick County," asked Margaret Myer, who lives in Frederick County near the park, at the end of a speech that garnered applause. Myer also expressed concerns about the traffic and the noise, especially for the surrounding neighborhoods.

"Traffic is going to be a problem for any kind of attraction like this," Deskins said.

There was also concern over how plans to close Millwood Avenue at Jubal Early Drive might exacerbate game-day traffic.

Perry Eisenach, the city's public services director, caused stir and a resounding "no" from the crowd when he said, "I think the Millwood issue and this are separate issues."

"Your comment that Millwood is a separate issue indicates to me that you haven't thought about that, and that's a huge failure," said Carter Foulds, deputy public defender in the city.

Interim City Manager Craig Gerhart moderated the event, and continually expressed his belief that the stadium would draw more people into the city.

"We think this is an important part of Winchester's portfolio," he said. "People will come to understand that Winchester is the city on 81 that has the ballpark."

Several residents in attendance expressed their approval of the stadium idea in general, but said the location just wouldn't work. Gerhart noted that the funding for purchasing a separate tract of land for the project, likely a few million dollars, doesn't exist.

City officials reported that the projected annual attendance of the games would be anywhere from 226,000 to 268,000.

There is another user group meeting on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the War Memorial Building and a public hearing on the issue at the City Council meeting on Feb. 14 at 7 p.m.

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