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State Cautions Hartford About Parking Operation for Stadium Development

State law says that all parking owned or operated by the city has to be in the control of the Hartford Parking Authority.

The city of Hartford says it won't "control" the parking in its new $350 million baseball stadium development, but it wants to have "input" and make "recommendations" as to who will operate that parking. And that's gotten the attention of a state development official who has cautioned otherwise. 

Michael Freimuth runs the state's Capital Region Development Authority, which pumps millions of dollars into Hartford. In an email to the city's chief operating officer this week, Freimuth warned that the city could have a problem if it "engages in any operations or overseeing the management of any newly developed garage."

That's because state law says that all parking owned or operated by the city has to be in the control of the Hartford Parking Authority, an independent agency of the city. The point was to take patronage out of the equation. But if the parking authority doesn't manage all of the parking under the city's influence, then the state can shut off the flow of money to projects that come before it.

"The authority shall not adopt any statement recommending funding for any capital city project or any economic development project in the capital region ...unless and until the town and city of Hartford has created a municipal parking authority in accordance with chapter 100 and has transferred, or scheduled the transfer of, in a legally binding way, the rights and responsibilities of the municipality for all municipally owned or operated parking facilities..."
Connecticut General Statutes

In response to Freimuth's email, city Chief Operating Officer Darrell Hill said this: "I agree and am being very cautious with the words I choose so as to not create a real or perceived issue."

Parking is controversial in Hartford, in large part because it's been seen as a way for the city's insiders to funnel business to their friends and political allies -- think former State Representative Abe Giles.

"The purpose of the Hartford Parking Authority was to keep us, the politicians, from awarding contracts with respect to parking," said city Councilman Ken Kennedy. "There were allegations that the city was handing out its parking as more like a political plum as opposed to a professional parking operation."

Kennedy said that, as a practical matter, the city may want to have some sway over the parking operation -- for instance, suggesting that the developer hire a parking contractor based in Hartford. But he said that any such influence could be problematic as a matter of law.

"The short answer to that legally is no," Kennedy said. "I don't believe legally we can have any input."

The city's answers to questions on the subject have been murky. One the one hand, Chief Operating Officer Darrell Hill told WNPR that the city will not "control" the selection of the parking operator. On the other hand, city Corporation Counsel SaundraKee Borges said in an email that "[w]e will have input over the selection of the parking operator." She also said the city "can make recommendations if we desire but will not be the ones in charge."

At a public hearing on the project earlier this week, developer Bob Landino of Centerplan Development said he would be open to hearing the city's input on who operates surface parking lots before they're developed.

"Because we control the property, having a long term lease, we would agree to whatever format the city so chose," Landino said. "If they chose to have the parking authority manage that lot, we would agree to it. If they chose to have a private operator manage the lot, we would agree to that."

And Borges said the developer could choose to contract with the parking authority, but it doesn't have to.

"It's their option," she said. "As it is ours."

Freimuth was unavailable for comment, and Suzanne Hopgood, CRDA's chair, declined to comment.

The Hartford Parking Authority says it is meeting next week to discuss the effect of the development project on its operations. A committee of the city council is again meeting Thursday night to discuss the $350 million development. It is scheduled to vote on it on Tuesday.

The first pitch of the Rock Cats in Hartford is scheduled for April 2016.

Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director. Then, in 2022, he became a senior enterprise reporter.

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