With the foot of snow dumped on Connecticut last week, it's hard to imagine that baseball's opening day in Hartford is less than a month away.
Come April 13, however, the Hartford Yard Goats ballclub is expected to make its long-anticipated debut, returning the country's national pastime to the Capital City. It's a moment we should all celebrate and embrace.
Whether you agreed or disagreed with the construction of Dunkin' Donuts Park and/or the Double-A baseball team's move from New Britain to Hartford, this project is about to become a reality and needs strong community support — from the city and suburbs — to be successful.
Rooting for failure, as some misguided folks are, will only do Hartford more harm. After all, the city, through the quasi-public Hartford Stadium Authority, financed the ballpark's construction and is on the hook for millions of dollars in annual debt payments. A financially successful team means Hartford will receive more revenues — from game-day tickets and parking — to help cushion its deficit-plagued budget.
We agree the stadium construction delays and cost overruns gave the city a black eye. Those pains likely aren't over yet either. We still haven't heard Dunkin' Donuts Park's final price tag, which was originally estimated to be $56 million but ballooned to $71 million. The many legal disputes that spawned from the project are also still ongoing, and now the FBI is investigating issues surrounding the stadium's construction, including alleged non-payments to subcontractors.
Despite those issues, the business community has continued to support the team and project. As Hartford Business Journal News Editor Gregory Seay reports in this week's cover story, team officials said the construction delays haven't dampened enthusiasm or financial support from its corporate sponsors like Aetna, The Hartford and Dunkin' Donuts. No sponsors defected amid the turmoil arising from the stadium cost overruns and subsequent acrimonious relationship between the city and the former stadium developer, Centerplan Construction, the team says.
The ballclub has sold all of its inventory of outfield signage for the stadium's inaugural season and will likely have over 250 sponsors. United Bank, which is moving its corporate headquarters to Hartford from Glastonbury, is one of the most recent high-level stadium backers.
Meantime, tickets to opening day sold out within 30 minutes when they went on sale March 14, the team said. These are all early positive indicators.
Kudos to the business community for maintaining its commitment to the ballpark, which will surely be mutually beneficial.
As companies look to attract top talent to Hartford — a difficult task at times — the baseball stadium offers another selling point to prospective recruits, particularly Millennials. The prospects of enjoying a beer and hot dog in a sun-soaked stadium overlooking Hartford's skyline, will be attractive to some, hopefully many.
During his state of the city address last week, Mayor Luke Bronin also mentioned the need to support the stadium.
"No matter what you thought about the stadium deal," he said, "now is the time to rally together, to embrace this stadium and team that are now ours, and to make it a success."
Bronin credited his development team for getting the project near its finish line, reminding residents, and voters of course, that it was just a year ago when we had a "half-built stadium, hopelessly delayed and millions over budget."
Bronin certainly deserves credit for getting the project back on track. He showed leadership when he fired Centerplan and demanded the project's insurance company take over. Centerplan's breach of contract lawsuit against the city, however, is still pending, so we need to see how that plays out.
Regardless, it's now up to city residents and businesses and those outside Hartford's borders to make the Yard Goats a success.