Hartford Yard Goats stadium failing so far as urban catalyst, surprise, surprise

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.”

Sigh.


13 comments on “Hartford Yard Goats stadium failing so far as urban catalyst, surprise, surprise

  1. Cities like Hartford have problems that aren’t going to be solved by a ballpark, a mall, or any other consumption location. Hartford, after all, made its name in insurance. After 140+ years of hosting Aetna suddenly found itself within in a whisker of losing the corporate headquarters because after a century and a half “young people” didn’t want to live there anymore.

    Whether this is true or not, it is probably true that cities do have to devote some time, energy, and money to building balanced quality of life for residents and prospective residents. What doesn’t make sense is to spend so much of the nest egg on the “coolness” of AA baseball.

  2. Fayre thee well, Road Goats. We hardly knew ye…

    What? They aren’t moving to New Britain or Providence yet?

  3. Every time I read one of these articles I see the specter of Bud Selig hovering over every one of them

  4. Come on. “It’s been ranked the nation’s best minor-league park two straight years” and “Yard Goats fans rave about their team-stadium’s intimacy and its affordability”. Isn’t a measly 3 million tax dollars a year for a “beautiful park” a bargain? The bottom line is that maintaining a status as a top AA city doesn’t come cheap.

    P.S. Are guided ballpark tours available?

  5. I hope the powers in Worcester, MA read this. At the moment they are head over heels crazy excited for the eventual arrival of the Paw Sox. They have all kinds of urban renewal fantasy delusions too.

    • Isn’t it too late for the Taxpayers of Worcester? Haven’t they already agreed to whatever it was the WorcSox wanted (if not more)?

      • Maybe too late, yes. But deals can always fall apart. It’s still very early in the process for them.
        I’m biased. I’m just mad my beloved PawSox have decided to leave me. I’ve spent the last year hardening my heart and trying to repress my pain and suffering at losing my local sports interest. Stolen away by the fancy-boy, tuxedo wearing, blue-blooded new ownership group. Good riddance!!
        In sports as in life–when she says “I’m just not that in to you. I’m going somewhere else” Don’t try to stop the inevitable. Let her go. Move on with your life. It’s just sports!! It doesn’t really matter.

        • Amen, Jerry.

          Somehow the ‘hold’ is even more secure with minor league teams (maybe because the continue to watch on tv option isn’t there, in most cases?).

          Sorry for your loss, but I guess another way to look at it is that you DON’T have to pay the increased taxes that Worcs residents will, but can still travel to see the team if you want?

          • Thanks for your concern, friend. I’ll get past it. The heart gets stronger every day. I’m learning to enjoy life again. Getting in touch with what’s really important. . . good health, family, friends and the Providence Bruins!

  6. Not to mention the millions of $$ the city of Hartford and its taxpayers have already laid out in litigation costs for Centerplan vs. the City of Hartford, which has been dragging on for more than two years now. As for Mayor Bronin, he’s running for re-election in November–running hard, running fast, running desperately for his (future political) life. If he can get the state to pony up for a new and improved XL Center, that will win him some campaign cred–especially with the hoary crowd awaiting the return of the Whalers.

  7. Amarillo, Texas will learn this lesson the hard way as well. They’re already cutting it close, working around the clock to finish building the Sod Poodles’ ballpark.

    The builders’ contract promised they would turn over a completed stadium on April 1, 2019. I passed by it with about three weeks to that deadline and it felt like it should have been closer to completion than it was.

    The mayor made, served and chugged the “economic impact” Kool-Aid.

  8. CT resident here, and one who used to work in downtown Hartford. Yeah, it’s no surprise the Yard Goats didn’t magically make Hartford a boom town. As GDub commented, it was once the Insurance Capital, with many tens of thousands of white-collar workers buzzing around, just in the insurance industry, never mind banking, which also had a big presence there.

    Starting in the ’70s many of those jobs migrated out of Hartford; first to the suburbs, into new buildings constructed on erstwhile farmland. (CT’s other former major industry, shade tobacco, is all but gone because of this trend; farmers made more money selling their land for commercial and industrial development, than by growing cigar wrappers, even if they were among the best in the world.) Then, in the ’90s, those suburban jobs were lost, as they either migrated to other (cheaper) parts of the country, or were simply lost due to mergers and acquisitions. (There were tons of those.)

    Time was, Hartford was something of a mecca. People went there for lots of reasons: To work, to shop, to see concerts and games at the then-Civic Center, and more. All of that is gone. G Fox, Sage Allen, etc. have all closed. The workers are gone; Aetna, the Hartford, and Travelers may have HQs or offices there, but those are shells of what they had been. There are still games at the XL Center (UConn winter sports), but no concerts (those have been lost to the casinos). What concerts there are, happen only in the summer in the Meadows in the north end; they’re no longer a year-round engine.

    So there’s minor-league ball, now … so what? How can that make up for the workers, and other activity, that aren’t there any more? It’d take a lot to restore all of that. I worked there in the late 80s & through the 90s. I literally watched the economic sun set on Hartford. It was actually great to work there when I started; there was a lot going on, even on weekends. By the time I was finished there, it was a dying husk.

    Those death throes can’t just be reversed by bringing in minor-league ball. And the powers-that-be surely knew that. I do not, for one moment, believe they were that stupid. They sold the city, and by extension the state (since CT had to bail out Hartford), a bill of goods.

    Hartford’s greatness (and make no mistake, in its heyday, there was greatness there) is a thing of the past. I’m not sure there is anything that could be done about it, now, aside from providing major (and I do mean “major,” as in “all but unaffordable”) incentives to businesses to relocate downtown. That would be the first order of business … getting workers back on the streets. Once they’re there, other things will follow. Ballparks? Nah. Not gonna work.