Yard Goats could skip town if stadium not ready for 2017, Hartford’s shame now complete

The Hartford Yard Goats stadium fiasco has so far included construction delays that have the Double-A baseball team playing its entire season on the road, the city paying massive fire department overtime to be sure the stadium didn’t burn down, and giant budget holes as a result of the city paying this whole mess. Couldn’t possibly get any worse, right?

According to an email from the city’s top lawyer, [Yard Goats owner Josh] Solomon informed him Monday that Hartford’s inability to complete the more than $60 million Dunkin’ Donuts Park is a breach of their development agreement and that sets the clock ticking.

That development agreement says that the city has six months to fix the problem. If it can’t, Solomon has the right to terminate his contract with the city, pack up his team, and go.

This is a nastygram, certainly: Solomon doesn’t want to move the Yard Goats elsewhere, but he does want to light a fire under the city to ensure that the stadium is complete in time for next season, and “Finish it now or else we walk out that door” is one way to get attention. Hartford (or its insurer) will now need to find a new developer to finish the job in a hurry, which won’t be made easier by the fact that it’s in the middle of a mess of lawsuits with the one it just fired.

The best-case scenario for all involved right now is Hartford hires somebody else to finish the job, they do so by April while being paid by the city’s insurance coverage, and at least the bleeding is stopped where it is now. The worst-case scenarios include the city either having to throw millions of dollars in new rush charges at getting the stadium done by next Opening Day, or the city not doing so and ending up with a 90% completed stadium and no team to play there after spending $61.5 million on building it.

Either way, it’s a complete mess, and a good reason not to throw $60 million at a stadium without making sure that the developer and the city’s lawyer have fallback plans worked out in case things don’t go as expected. Other prospective minor-league host cities, at least read up on this a little before jumping into bed with the next owner who makes eyes at you, okay? You won’t be sorry.


18 comments on “Yard Goats could skip town if stadium not ready for 2017, Hartford’s shame now complete

  1. Eventually, my prediction came true…. they are the Hartford Road Goats. For how many seasons? I don’t know…

  2. Didn’t their old home (New Britain?) secure a replacement club to play in the facility that was clearly not good enough for this franchise to continue in?

    That’s one less option for a new home if they do abandon the Hartford idea. Solomon is now an owner in search of a home, rather than an owner willing to accept the favour of various courtiers to consider a move. I suspect if he does pull up stakes he will take a significantly worse deal wherever his franchise ends up hanging it’s hat(s).

    Let’s hope other potential suitors take a good hard look at what happened in/to Hartford. It may or may not be “all their fault”, but it is a disaster.

    • Yes, the New Britain Bees, an Atlantic League (independent) team are there, and I believe they have a contract. It’s just as fun as it had been when double-A ball was being played. They even have some of the same personnel, including Stan Cliburn, a prior manager.

  3. Ever since work stopped on the stadium, I’ve wondered if it would be completed in time for 2017 baseball. I concluded a couple weeks ago, based on zero progress having been made and no reporting being done, that it wasn’t likely. Looks as though the team’s owner reached the same conclusion and is getting ready to walk away from the deal. Not that I blame them.

  4. To figure out whether Dunkin Donuts Park will be ready next season and why the Yard (Road) Goat’s owner gave notice, just follow the money.

    First, the ballpark…The city is in a corner. The city is cutting services. There is no way politically they can provide funding to finish the ballpark. Loan money, unlikely. Provide money, no way. So, that brings us to the bond insurer (the surety), Arch Insurance.

    Arch Insurance is supposed to pay for any work that was not completed and guarantee a finished ballpark. That sounds great but Arch Insurance doesn’t have to pay or pay fully if they can prove their insured, Centerplan (the developer) was not substantially at fault. They also have no incentive to settle on an amount early in the process. That also means that even if the city could loan money to finish the ballpark, construction can’t continue until the city settles with Arch Insurance because any changes to the ballpark would interfere with settlement talks and also Arch Insurance’s contractual rights under the bond. That’s a big blocker towards finishing the project.

    Then the second part of this is a new lawsuit filed yesterday by Centerplan against (wait for it) the owner of the Yard (Road) Goats. Even though the ballpark was contracted through the city, Centerplan sued the Yard Goats ownership for interfering with completing the ballpark. Very strangely, the suit references events that occurred after the ballpark construction was halted by the city. An initial read of the Hartford Courant article (http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-dunkin-donuts-park-lawsuit-0728-20160727-story.html) says that Centerplan alleges that the Yard Goats want to take over construction management of the ballpark and the surrounding village, which was apparently some type of evil (evil, I tell you) master plan by the Yard Goats ownership all along, rather than playing in their $60+ million gift.

    That would be amusing enough but the Centerplan lawsuit also requests an injunction to prevent the ballpark from being completed. It appears that the main purpose of the lawsuit was to throw a third party into the fray and put another blocker on completing the ballpark. Centerplan appears to be using the mutual assured destruction (MAD) strategy of construction companies, where if you sue us we sue everyone to prevent the project from ever being completed.

    Even if the Yard Goats never play an actual game in Hartford and lawsuits go on for the next five years, eventually the ballpark will be finished and some team will relocate there. It’s too nice, or will be too nice, of a ballpark not to have some minor league team move in eventually after the legal and financial dust has settled. But, over that time, the final cost of the ballpark will continue to rise. The Colorado Rockies and the Eastern League may finally tell the Yard Goats to move on – particularly if a nasty lawsuit drags on costing the franchise money.

    So, summarizing reasons that Yard Goats may not play in Hartford next year — City of Hartford has no money to finish, insurance company isn’t paying (at least quickly), injunction against finishing demanded and Yard Goats ownership has now been sued. Lots of good reasons not to buy 2017 Yard Goats season tickets quite yet.

    Also, continuing good reasons to stay as far, far away from Centerplan for your future (ballpark) construction needs.

    Andy

    • Every time I think this story has hit rock bottom something new comes out and it sinks further down. I don’t see what Centerplan’s end game is here with suing everyone and everything. If they are trying to hold on to the bigger piece of development pie, it would seem they would want to maintain a better relationship with the city (not to mention public image) than they are.

      • Dave, that’s my take too. But, it appears Centerplan is truly following the MAD philosophy. The only thing I can think of is that Centerplan believes that by suing everyone someone will want to settle and send Centerplan some money. It’s surprising that Centerplan has not sued the city, who they actually had a contract with, unlike the Yard Goats.

        I’d expect the next counter-move to be the Yard Goats counter-sue Centerplan but that may also mean the Yard Goats are forced to sue the City (or the ballpark development agency) since that is who their contract is with. If that was Centerplan’s goal (to force the Yard Goats into suing the city) then that would be true evil legal genius at work. We’ll see…

        Andy

        • Funny enough I thought they already HAD sued the city, though upon closer investigation (googling) it looks like they threatened to but haven’t done so yet.

        • I would imagine that’s exactly it, Andy. By deploying their own blizzard of paperwork, they are hoping they can convince the city/club/Church of Scientology that there is no benefit to be gained from suing them (whether they were substantially to blame for the failure of the development or not). At some point, I presume, the lawyers for all other parties will sit down with their clients and advise them that they are on solid legal ground re: the initial suit(s), but that no outcome can be guaranteed and that losing the Centreplan (?) suits could cost them hundreds of millions, while just defending those actions will cost more than the failed stadium in its entirety.

          I think you can see where this is going…

    • ALK:

      The bond surety wants to complete the project the cheapest way possible. They cheapest way possible is to have Centerplan come back and finish. To have any other contractor come in and finish, the cost to complete most likely goes up 200%-300%. Centerplan has a reputation to save by finishing, any other contractor has a lot of money to make from coming in to deal with this headache. Look for Centerplan to come back and finish. Hence the injunctions to stop anyone else coming in to finish the job.

      Also, Solomon wants nothing more than to take over the surrounding development. He makes his money by being a developer. He own a baseball team for fun. Check out he and his fathers company, DSF Group.

      Overall, a terrible situation for everyone. Another perfect example why municipalities should not build sports venues for rich greedy team owners.

      • …and to be fair to all sides in this fiasco why large construction contracts should require a comptetive bidding process. I still don’t understand how/why Centerplan / DoNo received the award without competitive bidding? The excuse was that the work wouldn’t be completed in time. Well, it wasn’t completed in time without competitve bidding.

        The surety would save the most money by claiming that the agreement has been violated. Surely there are clauses that allow the claim to be rejected if the delays are not caused by the insured? That would save the surety the most money and also cause another lawsuit to be filed.

        The number of separate legal actions alone could keep this ballpark from being completed by April 2017.

        Andy

  5. Not to bury the lede… but one question:

    Wasn’t it likely that having the Yard Goats play in this stadium was going to cost the city more than not having them?

    So, once the fire marshall overtime issues are sorted out (maybe by having nice big fire?), isn’t it actually a better deal financially for Hartford to have built this stadium and immediately knock it down than it would have been to have the Road Goats take up residence and play in it for a decade or three?

    Seems like a win win for politicians here… just say you are booting the primary tenant out before they even move in and knocking the building down to save taxpayers money…

  6. A couple of comments, clarifications, and corrections here from someone (me) who’s been in the vortex of this mess for two years now. First, Solomon’s “Dear Hartford” letter is dated June 13th–even though it was just revealed to the public–so the clock has already been ticking for nearly seven weeks. The drop-dead date is December 13th, 2016. Next, the stadium is not costing $61 million or 60-anything million. The city’s Internal Audit Commission began gathering the true figures just yesterday, in order for Hartfordites to see exactly how many of their taxpayer dollars are going/have gone into this black hole. It’s already up to $95 million, and the data is still coming in. There was land acquisition, infrastructure work, and there were also big bucks spent on lawyers, architects, and design mavens during the 18 months of secret negotiations before the “done deal” was announced. Third–never, ever rely on the once-venerable now fishwrap-worthy Hartford Courant for anything involving the real story. USA Today is like the New York Times in comparison to the Courant. Liars abound in all the entities involved in this debacle–the team, the developer, and the city (Stadium Authority). Centerplan–no angels themselves–was set up to fail early this year; Solomon’s threat comes as no surprise to most of us. The Stadium Authority (hereafter referred to as the Seven Stooges) is an inept band of clueless, inexperienced bumblers who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. And baby-face Solomon has already been reaching out to other venues for his team. Finally, the city of Hartford is broke, broke, broke. Empty pockets. Tap city. Perhaps they could start a “Go Fund Me” to complete this thing?

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