January 5, 2016

$10M hole has city's ballpark “sideways''

Rendering | Contributed
Rendering | Contributed
The Hartford minor league ballpark will be the first outdoor stadium to bear the Dunkin' Donuts name. Before agreeing to the sponsorship, Dunkin' Donuts consulted a subsidiary of the Boston Red Sox organization.

A potential $10 million cost overrun to build Hartford's minor-league ballpark makes it highly unlikely the stadium will be ready for the spring start of the baseball season, threatening the credibility of the city and the builder, city and team officials say.

Meantime, Hartford Yard Goats principal owner Josh Solomon, who relocated his team from New Britain on the city's promise of a new ballpark for the 2016 season, said he has no intention of digging into his or the team's pockets for the millions it would take to fill the construction deficit. The city budgeted $56 million to erect the 6,000-seat stadium in the "downtown north'' quadrant, off Main Street.

"We're sideways,'' Hartford Stadium Authority Chairman I. Charles Matthews said at a contentious three-hour plus special meeting Tuesday at City Hall. "I'm trying to figure out what's the path forward.''

Amid fingerpointing by Middletown developer Centerplan Development, and its construction unit, and the city's construction adviser, International Facilities Group LLC (IFG) of Chicago, an IFG official acknowledged it was unlikely that Dunkin' Donuts Park would be ready by the April 7 start of baseball. Contractually, Centerplan agreed to deliver a largely completed ballpark to the city and its baseball tenant by mid-March.

"We're very disappointed,'' Solomon told the authority, whose members include Luke Bronin, who attended his first ballpark authority meeting since being sworn in as Hartford's mayor. "We have to figure out a plan to understand where we will be able to play.''

Asked by City Treasurer Adam Cloud, another authority member, whether Solomon personally or the team might be able to put up money to fill the construction-budget deficit, Solomon was adamant.

"I'm the tenant. I signed a 25-year commitment to play ball in that ballpark,'' the clubowner said. "For the city to come to me, because of a failure on the part of the development team … I'm not even willing to contemplate it at this time.''

Solomon called it a "bad idea'' when asked whether the Yard Goats could postpone its opening day game in Hartford, playing its first games on the road until mid- to late-May, when the stadium is completed.

"We don't delay opening day,'' added Eastern League President Joe McEacharn, who sat next to Solomon while addressing the authority.

An angry McEacharn said his main concern all along has been whether Hartford's ballpark would be open in time for the 2016 season. He said he consistently received assurances from Centerplan officials that the park, despite a myriad design changes that Centerplan officials insist they had no hand in approving, would be ready.

"I've been lied to,'' McEacharn told the authority.

If Hartford fails to deliver a ready-to-use stadium by opening day, '' there will be pain,'' he said, "not just for this ballclub and the city,'' but for major-league baseball, the players and fans.

Centerplan founder-CEO Robert Landino told the authority that his company was prepared to waive $1.7 million in development and construction fees to which it is contractually entitled to cut the stadium construction deficit.

Another option for smoothing the financial hole, Landino said, is to delay construction until weather warms, which would wring about $1 million of weather-related building costs and delays from the project.

Landino acknowledged that one avenue open to the city is to pursue a claim against Centerplan's performance-bond carrier, but that legal process would take too much time to resolve.

According to Centerplan Construction President Jason Rudnick, the best avenue is for all parties involved to sit down and hammer out a plan that resolves the financing deficit and construction delay.

Rudnick and Landino, too, were adamant to stadium authority officials that Centerplan and its DoNo LLC development arm were transparent in disclosing all project milestones, including a growing list of design changes and unexpectedly higher costs for steel and cement for which Centerplan implemented and billed the city.

"You can't ask us to build a house for a certain amount of money,'' Landino said, "when we don't control the design of the house.''

Read more

Blame shared in Hartford stadium debacle

Landino aspires to erase Hartford's dim view

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