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Hartford Terminates Stadium Developer, Chance of Baseball "Slim"

Jeff Cohen
Dunkin' Donuts park in Hartford, where the Yard Goats have yet to play a home game.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin is terminating the city’s relationship with the developer of its still-unfinished minor league baseball stadium, a move that he said Monday leaves a “slim” chance that the Hartford Yard Goats will play at all in their home stadium this year. 

“We are terminating that relationship,” Bronin said. “We are saying that they are no longer on this job.”

This comes just a few days after Bronin received an email from the developers at Middletown-based DoNo Hartford LLC and Centerplan Companies that said it would be at least another 60 days before the stadium would even comply with the building code. It also comes a week after what Bronin said was an unsuccessful meeting with DoNo and its insurance company.

The mayor said that means work on the project will stop at some point on Monday. Now, it will be up to the developer’s insurance company to finish and pay for the rest of the work. Bronin also said he expects to formally contest the claim that led to the $10 million agreement earlier this year to try and get the project done.

“The bottom line is we lost confidence in DoNo and Centerplan’s ability to complete this project,” said Bronin, adding that the developer in default of its contracts with the city in at least three different ways. “If they remain on the job, there’s no question there’s no baseball.”

The mayor said the only chance the team has of playing in Hartford this year is if DoNo is off the job. Bronin said the team supports his move.

But developer Jason Rudnick has repeatedly said that the city was responsible for some of the delays and cost overruns, a result of numerous change orders; that's an assertion that Bronin said he rejected.

After the mayor's press conference, Rudnick shot back.

"We're extremely disappointed. At the end of the day, this is a political cover up. Because the city has entered into a legal and financial quagmire," Rudnick said. "What everybody's trying to do is to use us a scapegoat for the fact that the city knows it has a deficient design which it owns."

Rudnick also said there were a series of changes in February -- from tiles, to electrical outlets for vendors, to a new barn door, to 50 extra TVs -- that he thinks came not from the city, but from the Yard Goats themselves.

"You can't go ahead and change the drawings and add scope and tell me you've got to do it for the same price, and, by the way, you can't change the date," he said.

Josh Solomon owns the Yard Goats. His regular season ends at the end of August. And while he's looking for short-term solutions for a place to call home, he's still looking for his team will play in Hartford this year.

"I'm hoping that the city is able to force some action so that we can play at some point during the season -- this season -- here," Solomon said.

Asked to respond to Rudnick's claim that it was changes from the club that contributed to the situation now, Solomon said Rudnick lied.

"This is a person who has communicated on so many occasions in a false fashion that I don't know how anybody believes anything he says," Solomon said.

It’s been two years since the city of Hartford started down the road of building a stadium for the New Britain Rock Cats. At the time, Mayor Pedro Segarra said the team was threatening to leave the state altogether if its needs weren’t met. So Hartford tried to meet them.

But those needs were aggressive. The team wanted a new stadium built, and it wanted it done in a year and a half. And what began as a $60 million, city-funded stadium ballooned into something much bigger: a $350 million neighborhood development project with a grocery store, a brewery, apartments, and more.  It also came with the promise of significant private investment, jobs, employment, and a chance for Hartford to do something big and good at the same time.

Bronin said agreements are still in place to develop those portions of the project, but Monday's move raises questions about DoNo’s ability to do more work in the city.

From the beginning, the stadium project was full of promises that critics -- including Bronin -- found hard to believe. First, there was the idea that the stadium would pay for itself with revenue generated by the larger, $350 million development project; then there was the notion that the stadium itself could be built in a year, in time for opening day on April 7.

But months before that deadline neared, it was clear that the developers wouldn’t hit it. It was also clear that the program would need more money to keep it alive. So in January, Bronin, the team, and the developer all agreed to add new money to the project: a total of about $10 million. They also agreed to create a new deadline for the stadium to be substantially complete. That was May 17, a date that also came and went. 

Everyone disagrees about who’s at fault. 

Bronin, who has never liked the project, said it was was too ambitious and expensive from the start, but that the developer has failed to meet even its own revised deadlines.

Meanwhile, Rudnick has said that everybody’s got a dirt on their hands, including the city, which has submitted multiple change orders that added time and expense to the stadium.

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