Hartford official: Yard Goats stadium sent city budget from bad to worse

This article in Bloomberg Businessweek on the Hartford Yard Goats stadium mess doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground for those already following the now-two-months-and-counting-delayed Double-A ballpark, but I have to mention it because of this one awesome quote:

For the 2018 budget, [Hartford Mayor Luke] Bronin anticipates a $34 million shortfall, thanks to payments on debt that are coming due. The gap balloons to $78 million by 2022. “The stadium isn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back here,” says Melissa McCaw, Hartford’s director for management, budget, and grants. “It’s just some hay that was dumped on a crippled, half-dead camel.”

That’s about the size of it. In most cases — not Cincinnati or Glendale or Bridgeview, but most cases — ballooning stadium subsidies simply aren’t a big enough part of the municipal budget to bankrupt your city all by themselves. They sure don’t help, though.

There’s also this somewhat more confusing quote from McCaw, though it’s possible it’s only the context that makes it seem confusing:

McCaw says that with the stadium unfinished and no new revenue sources available, the city may need to lean on the state for help: “I really just have no idea how we’re going to close that budget gap.”

Whereas if the stadium were finished, Hartford would be … getting a whopping $500,000 in rent this year from the Yard Goats? That’s not going to do much to reincarnate the camel. As embarrassing as the delays are for all involved, the fiscal problem came with spending $63 million in city money (plus free city land) in the first place on a stadium that would generate little to nothing in the way of direct city revenue even if it opened on time. Now everyone involved is just haggling over the blame.

17 comments on “Hartford official: Yard Goats stadium sent city budget from bad to worse

  1. This ballpark is such a great case study in so many ways. It’s certainly turning into an excellent example of how to always include the “what if things don’t go according to plan” clauses. The Yard Goats owner had one – he doesn’t have to pay rent now for a ballpark he isn’t using.

    I think I understand the second quote from Ms. McCaw. The city’s budget planned for the rent as you said, but also the tax revenue and perhaps parking from people actually attending games. I have to believe, but have no evidence, that the city knows its going to need more money now to finish the ballpark. It may get some of that back in future legal action (which costs money) but right now it needs more money.

    Then throw in a budget that already had issues and the dead camel gets shipped down the road to the state government in Hartford.

    In other dead ballpark news, the developer decided to tour the media through his not-so-complete ballpark. Obviously the owner of Centerplan, who is building the ballpark, decided that he could handle public relations just as well as he can build a ballpark. And, it was true!


    Mr. Rudnick said that he wanted to show what was completed because it, and I’m paraphrasing, wasn’t fair that the Yard Goats owner only showed what wasn’t complete. I was reading the article thinking about how I would react if my house builder said, “I’m sorry your house isn’t finished well after we promised, but look at how much we did finish! Isn’t it great?” Apparently Mr. Rudnick also believes that any criticism of his company’s work is counterproductive, even if that work is late and unfinished.

    Mr. Rudnick you are indeed just as good of a PR person as a ballpark builder. Here’s some free advice – lay low until you actually have the ballpark finished. Run from the media. Claim you don’t speak English or hearing impaired. Just go finish the ballpark and this will all be forgotten in about two years, unless you happen to be balancing a city budget. Then you can talk with the media.


    • The tax revenue from the stadium was always anticipated to be minimal. The real benefit, even according to the city’s own figures, was going to come from the development around the stadium, so I guess if the stadium delays push back construction on that stuff, then the city will lose out? That’s assuming that other developers’ timelines are in the slightest effected pro or con by what’s going on with the Yard Goats, though.

      • Maybe the “relationship” with the developers is now so bad that it’s put the rest of the plans in jeopardy?

  2. One other thing I meant to point out above is that in the Hartford Courant article there the usual link to their ballpark photos. As they run stories they add photos to the link so the photos go back a while.

    Right now, the 3rd of 56 photos is a photo of either a indoor batting cage or indoor warm-up area. The Centerplan owner showed this off, apparently, as a finished area.

    Did anyone who designed this batting cage or warm-up area understand the intended use? Those unprotected fluorescent lights don’t seem like a really good idea for a batting cage. The fixtures on the wall aren’t protected.

    So, either this area was poorly designed for its intended use or this “finished” area isn’t finished (or both). Again, not the best PR work if you are Centerplan.


    • That’s absolutely an indoor batting cage — not only does the Courant’s caption call it one, but it looks exactly like the one in the Brooklyn Cyclones ballpark where my son took batting lessons. And you’re right about the light fixtures. Anyone happen to recall how most indoor cages are lit?

      • Sure – they use the old round gym lights with metal screens. That assumes you have enough of a high ceiling to use those. The key for everyone I’ve seen is the metal grids to protect the bulbs from hits and players who are hitting .186 in AA.

        It’s similar to the way the Minute Maid Park visitor’s bullpen is lit.

        Found this image on the web:

      • Typically, there’s enough distance between the overhead netting and the lights above it (and the net is pulled tightly enough) that it will keep any balls from hitting the lights or the ceiling.
        Those nets in the Courant photo are retractable, so that’s not what the room will look like when in use – I’d imagine the designers took the positioning of the lights into consideration, although it’s hard to tell from the picture.

  3. Didn’t Mayor Bronin win his election in part because of the disgust over the previous guy over his “management” of the soccer and baseball stadium projects in Hartford?

    Another one for the list of politicians who lost?

  4. It seems to have made the city’s budget shortfall worse by, oh 1.5% or so just due to the rent.

    For the stadium development to generate enough additional tax revenue to balance the city budget, it would have to have spurred something north of $4.5Bn in total developments that would not otherwise have happened (based on a mill rate of 0.0075, which is meant to average residential and commercial rates of all categories. Hartford’s rate may well be significantly higher or lower).

    For the stadium to generate enough additional property taxes just to pay for itself over two decades, it would have to have directly inspired $425m or so in new development (and please note that this is just the city tax revenue that would be required to pay for the stadium, not to service the other $425m in development also).

    Even if the build had not been the disaster it obviously has been, does anyone think either of those total development numbers were likely or remotely possible?

  5. Although not a tagline, I vote for McCaw’s quote being pasted into the FoS masthead.

    “The stadium isn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back…it’s just some hay that was dumped on a crippled, half-dead camel.”


  6. The mayor of Hartford is reportedly holding a press conference concerning Dunkin’ Donuts Park. Fox61 claims to be showing the press conference live but I can’t seem to make that work.

    6/6/16 2:47pm EDT


  7. The sound you just heard was the noise the other shoe makes when dropped…

    The mayor of Hartford announced this afternoon that the stadium authority plans to terminate their contract with DoNo and Centerplan.

    That is probably a good move for the city from a money standpoint (protects the City’s interests in recovering costs) but likely means the Yard Goats will remain Wandering Goats for 2016.


  8. One other quick note from me, the City of Hartford received a letter from Centerplan last Friday stating it would take at least 60 more days to get the ballpark to a “substantially ready” state. This letter was sent after the developer held a press walk-through to supposedly show how much work had been done and how the developer had been maligned. What do you call that?

    Also the mayor said he had doubts about the rest of the development plan for the area.

    I assume this is the part of the story where the developer sues the city and the Yard Goats owner (and Dunkin’ Donuts). Choose your reason for the lawsuit, they’ll likely all be in the filing.


  9. Is it too late to rename the team the Hartford Camels, after that statement? And also, whoever does the game write ups for the team definitely needs to casually mix in lines like, “Yard Goats can Do No wrong tonight.”