Connecticut state senator Eric Coleman had an op-ed in the Hartford Courant yesterday outlining why he thinks spending $60 million in city money on a stadium to lure the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats to town is a lousy idea, an argument that you can probably picture just from the phrase “$60 million in city money on a stadium to lure the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats to town.” He does add one interesting piece of information, though, that we haven’t discussed here before:
Two weeks after the Rock Cats deal was announced on the steps of city hall, we discover that the site of the proposed stadium was (until recently) the planned home of a 50,000-square-foot grocery store, most likely a Shop Rite. The supermarket would have been part of an $80 million mixed-use development, including apartments.
As the Courant reported last week, it’s actually an adjacent piece of land. But the supermarket plan has indeed been scrapped because the Hartford Community Loan Fund, the non-profit that had hoped to develop the project, says it’s not compatible with a minor-league baseball stadium.
Coleman says this is a waste as Hartford badly needs decent supermarkets, which it may well. But even in gross economic impact terms, now we have a basis for comparison: A 50,000-square-foot supermarket, if we can believe this randomly Googled press release, creates an average of 250 full-time jobs. A minor-league baseball stadium creates 25-30 full-time jobs, plus a few hundred part-timers. That’s not a great tradeoff, even if you assume that more of the supermarket spending would be cannibalized from other stores in the city than the baseball spending would be from other local entertainment options. (Which probably isn’t a good assumption, anyway, given that Hartford residents currently spend $40 million a year on buying food outside of Hartford, because options inside the city are so crappy.)
Plus, since the supermarket plan would have been at least partly financed by a private developer (no final deal was in place, so we can’t say precisely how it would have worked out), the city would then get the benefits of whatever else it wanted to do with its $60 million. It’s still not quite an apples-to-apples comparison — the city, for one thing, insists that a stadium and a supermarket can coexist — but it does give some sense of how crappy the typical sports development project looks compared to building just about anything else you can imagine.