Last week I was interviewed by Greg Seay of the Hartford Business Journal about stadiums as development catalysts (my sound bite: “If there is a positive impact, it is so small that it’s not going to be measurable in the data”), and today his article is up on how the Yard Goats‘ new stadium is doing at reinventing Hartford. If you had “not so hot” in the betting pool, you’re a winner:
While the stadium has brought new energy and fans to the city during the spring and summer months, it has so far largely struck out in delivering on its promise to spur development in Hartford’s Downtown North (DoNo) quadrant, a linchpin of the city’s plan to pay for the stadium.
The addition of taxable DoNo development was supposed to help the city pay the approximate $4.6 million annual debt on the ballpark’s bonds. Currently, the city only draws about $1 million from its ballpark lease and a share of the team’s non-baseball revenue, leaving city taxpayers to foot the more than $3 million annual deficit.
There is planned development for the future — this thing — but even if it eventually happens, we’re still left with questions about the “spur” part of the equation: Would development have happened anyway in DoNo without a minor-league baseball stadium next to it? Would it have happened elsewhere in Hartford, if not in DoNo? It’s kind of tough to imagine that developer Randy Salvatore thinks the success of his mixed-use development is contingent on there being a 6,000-seat ballpark nearby, especially one that’s only in use during Double-A baseball season. While I. Charles Mathews, former chair of the Hartford Stadium Authority, asked Seay, “You know what happens when you build a big mall?” — meaning other stores open nearby to get spillover foot traffic — 6,000 fans 70 nights a year is pathetic compared to the number of people who pass through even a small mall. (Also, what mostly happens when you build a big mall these days is you end up with an empty mall.)
Anyway, Hartford’s baseball stadium is already built and paid for by the people of Connecticut, so we may as well hope that the surrounding development gets built, so at least there’s a nice neighborhood to walk through on the way to way to Yard Goats games. And that Hartford has learned its lesson and realized that spending on sports venues isn’t a punched ticket to urban revitalization—
“The XL Center is at a crossroads, not next year, not five years from now, but right now,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said. “This tournament, which will put Hartford and Connecticut on TVs across the nation is only possible because of the XL Center. I fear this may be one of the last significant events held there if the state chooses not to invest in the future of a facility that does so much, not just for the Capital City but the state.”