SBD/June 5, 2014/Facilities

Hartford Lures Double-A Baseball To City With $60M Ballpark Set To Open In '16

A grand opening for the new ballpark is planned for April 7, 2016
More than a year of “secret talks culminated” yesterday as the city of Hartford “agreed to build” a $60M ballpark and lease it for 25 years to the Double-A Eastern League New Britain Rock Cats, according to a front-page piece by Carlesso, Lender & Stacom of the HARTFORD COURANT. Mayor Pedro Segarra said, “This stadium will greatly expand our central business district and will also enable us to reconnect with north Hartford -- a community that greatly needs an infusion of jobs and opportunities.” He noted that the ballpark would “seat more than 9,000 spectators” with construction “expected to be completed on April 1, 2016, and a grand opening is planned for April 7, 2016.” Segarra said that the city's debt payments on bonding for the ballpark would be $1.5-2M in ‘17 and about $4.3M “in subsequent years.” Carlesso, Lender & Stacom note the project “still needs the approval of the city council, although its members said Wednesday that the plan has overwhelming support.” The Rock Cats would “pay the city about $500,000 a year.” Meanwhile, the “upbeat atmosphere in Hartford contrasted sharply with the mood” in New Britain. Mayor Erin Stewart said, “I question the city of Hartford's ability to finance the project. Like many other cities and towns across the state, Hartford is struggling, just as New Britain is, with deficits and budget problems. How they can justify this in such difficult times?" Stewart said that even if the Rock Cats leave she is “committed to keeping baseball in her city.” She added, “We will certainly continue to have baseball at New Britain Stadium and will explore all options” (HARTFORD COURANT, 6/5).

CHANGE OF SCENERY: In Connecticut, Matt Straub writes the announcement “signified the end of more than 30 years of Eastern League baseball in New Britain.” Rock Cats Managing Partner Josh Solomon said, “We’ve had a great relationship with the city of New Britain. ... The ability to provide our fans with a state of the art facility at the junction of two major highways in Hartford was too good to pass up.” Segarra said that “no state money will be used” to build the ballpark (NEW BRITAIN HERALD, 6/5). Twins Assistant GM Rob Antony, whose organization is the Rock Cats’ parent club, said, “They’ve had some battles in New Britain that they haven’t been able to resolve. Give them credit, they want to keep the team in Connecticut.” Antony said that the Twins “have not begun” discussing an extension of their player development contract, which expires after this season (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 6/6).

MOVIN’ ON UP: In Hartford, Jeff Jacobs writes under the header, “Haters Going To Hate, But Downtown Ballpark A Positive Move.” There is “something fundamentally right in a capital city, especially one that has fretted so long about the brain drain to New York and Boston, doing its best to provide leisure activities for its citizens while simultaneously trying to stimulate its economic engine” (HARTFORD COURANT, 6/5). A COURANT editorial states Hartford city council members “do need to take a hard look before they endorse this deal.” But a “top-of-the-line baseball stadium would give Hartford the vibrancy it needs” (HARTFORD COURANT, 6/5). In New Haven, Chip Malafronte noted Solomon and his siblings "purchased the club from Bill Dowling two years ago under the belief that the team would remain in New Britain." However, new ownership "almost immediately" began searching for alternatives to New Britain. If there are "red flags" for the new deal, "they can be raised over Hartford's ability to make this work." Parking "needs to be ample and affordable; traffic needs to be smooth; much construction needs to be done in a short time." Malafronte: "Still, it's hard not to agree Hartford baseball will be a success" (NHREGISTER.com, 6/4).
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