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.

Unfinished Hartford Yard Goats stadium is even more unfinished than we thought

We now have photographic evidence of how far construction has yet to go at the Hartford Yard Goats‘ new Dunkin’ Donuts Park, thanks to one Baseballparks.com blogger Joe Mock, who poked around with his camera on Monday, and Yard Goats owner Josh Solomon, who led an NBC Connecticut reporter on a tour of the unfinished ballpark. And it ain’t pretty:

Hart7Hart6Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 9.07.07 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-02 at 9.07.11 AMThat looks pretty bad — stairwells without railings, missing outfield wall padding, bathrooms without ceiling tiles and in some cases toilets. But this, from the NBC Connecticut story, sounds even worse:

In the VIP area, the ceiling ends about a foot before the wall does heading into an outdoor area and there are sprinklers below installed light fixtures…

There are sections of seats that were supposed to be installed in the outfield that instead have had concrete poured over them.

I don’t even know what that means — they dumped a load of concrete on top of actual seats? or they poured solid concrete in areas that were supposed to have spaces left for seat installation? — but either way, it’s not good. If you have a chance to wager on the eventual home opening date for the Yard Goats, bet the over.

Hartford insurance claim doesn’t mean Yard Goats stadium construction will grind to halt (yet)

Good news, everybody! Construction on the Hartford Yard Goats stadium isn’t going to grind to a halt just because the city of Hartford filed an insurance claim on Thursday for damages because of missed deadlines. Not yet, anyway:

The HSA unanimously decided to file a claim with ARCH Insurance for the value of the stadium. The passage of the resolution is also a symbolic vote of no-confidence in the developer’s ability to get the job done. That put the responsibility on the insurance company to keep the developer on track, and handle any cost overruns.

The insurance company could still decide to halt construction if they believe the project needs an overhaul, or if the city’s claim merits an investigation.

This is just a nastygram for now, in other words, meant to send a message to the developer to pick up the pace, because otherwise the insurance company could send a guy to see you, and you don’t wanna do that, because he don’t like people. Nobody is putting a date on when the stadium will be playable just yet, so hold off on your vacation plans to central Connecticut for the time being.

Yard Goats road trip has no foreseeable ending, as Hartford fines developer for unfinished stadium

I know you want to know what’s up with the Hartford Yard Goats‘ road trip from hell, so here’s the latest: The team will keep playing home games in Norwich through June 6, then move a planned home series vs. the Reading Fightin’ Phils in mid-June to Reading, then cross their fingers and hope real hard that their Hartford stadium is ready by their next scheduled home game on June 21, because the Connecticut Tigers of the NY-Penn League will need the Norwich stadium by then.

Whether there’s any chance of that happening is still very much an open question. As an added incentive to the developers to get the damn thing built already, the city has started fining them $15,000 a day, as allowed in their contract. City officials also have the option of asking their insurer to cover the entire $2 million cost of finishing the stadium — much of which has already been spent — which would undoubtedly be better for the public’s bottom line, but worse for the Yard Goats, since waiting on the insurance claim could eat up the rest of the season.

It is pretty much the worst-case scenario to end all worst-case scenarios, with everybody losing out: Taxpayers who shelled out to build this thing, the team’s owners and fans, and even New Britain fans who lost their team to a city that wasn’t even ready to host it. (I guess fans in Norwich are getting to watch some extra Double-A baseball, so that’s a plus for them?) At this rate, the only baseball being played in Hartford for the foreseeable future could be these guys, and they got arrested so they probably won’t be playing much more this year anyway. Maybe Hartford should just skip the baseball team and keep the mascots?

Hartford Yard Goats stadium opening delayed until July, now officially complete disaster

Surprise, surprise, the Hartford Yard Goats‘ new stadium was deemed not “substantially complete” on Tuesday, meaning it won’t be ready to host the team’s much-delayed home opener on May 31. In fact, it now won’t be open until at least July, which likely means more home games in Norwich — at this point, Hartford fans would have had an easier time seeing their new home team if it had stayed put in New Britain.

With the designation of the stadium as falling short, Hartford can now levy fines of $15,000 a day on developer DoNo Hartford, which is nice but unless this drags out all year isn’t going to do much to cover the $2 million that team owner Josh Solomon can now pull out of providing toward finishing the stadium, plus $500,000 in this year’s rent. (Solomon said yesterday, “I will continue to honor my agreement with the city and I will be flexible to help,” which sure sounds like “Our deal says I don’t have to pay you that $2.5 million now, but you have my sympathies.”) The city apparently has some insurance coverage it can avail itself of, but if it fires DoNo now and goes to seek a new developer the stadium may not open all year, and oh man, is this a juicy mess. Let’s go, Bees!

Yard Goats’ eternal road trip may get longer, as stadium still not ready

It’s been a while since we checked in on the Hartford Yard Goats, the new minor-league team that’s starting the season on a two-month-long road trip because the developer of their $63 million publicly funded stadium couldn’t finish it in time for opening day. And that road trip could get even longer, because now both the league president and the construction contractor say the stadium may not even be ready by the rescheduled May 31 opening:

At the final Hartford Stadium Authority meeting before the developer is scheduled to deliver the stadium to the team, city development director Sean Fitzpatrick said he was “skeptical” the stadium developer would meet the May 17 deadline.

“We have grave concerns at this point,” he said…

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Luke Bronin asked an official for the company overseeing the project for Hartford if he believed the developer needed two weeks beyond May 17 to get to “substantial completion.”

The official, Kevin Greene, executive vice president of International Facilities Group, replied “yes.”

The bad news is … well, pretty obvious: It looks like the Yard Goats either won’t be able to start their home season on May 31, or will be doing so in a half-finished stadium. The better news is that if that happens, the bailout deal worked out in January means that the city can replace the current developers, DoNo Hartford and Centerplan, and charge damages of $50,000 for the first day and $15,000 per day thereafter; the team, meanwhile, can get out from having to contribute $2 million toward construction cost overruns or this year’s $500,000 in rent.

This is likely to come down to a determination whether the stadium is “substantially complete” by May 17, as stipulated in the contract, which, jeez, people, who the hell puts vague language like that into important legal documents? Either way, the relocation of the Yard Goats from nearby New Britain is turning into a bigger fiasco day by day, though you know that all will be forgiven once there’s a shiny new ballpark to watch baseball in, at least for a few years until it’s not so shiny anymore and people realize it’s the same old Double-A team they used to watch ten minutes away, only now with a goat on the cap.

Hartford residents speak out on Yard Goats bailout, if you listen carefully you can even hear them

So the mayor of Hartford held his town hall meeting for residents to comment on his Yard Goats stadium bailout plan last night, and two of the first print reports were, oddly, from non-print outlets: Fox 61 and WNPR. And both quoted the same person who spoke. Ready? Here we go:

“The best I can do and the best I can offer is to use my best judgement and then to come out and explain it and defend it and that’s what I’m trying to do,” said [Hartford Mayor Luke] Bronin at the meeting Monday night. “This was going to cost the taxpayers no matter what. It was going to cost us in the form of lawyers fees and delays in lost revenue if we had gone a different route. I think it’s going to cost us less going this route than it would have the other route.”

If you want to hear from the actual public who went to the public meeting, you’ll have to turn to the Hartford Courant, which ran a print article briefly citing a few local residents (one was worried about taxes going up as a result, one wants the members of the stadium authority fired, one wants the stadium project shut down, and one hopes the mayor is “thinking about the people of this city”) — as well as, since this is Opposite Day, video footage of the event. The lengthiest comment depicted:

The Yard Goats, even with their $2 million they’re putting in now — again, the onus of this is not on you because I don’t think you would have made this kind of deal — is a very insignificant amount of money, and their potential for profit is very great if this stadium is successful. That’s the deal we made. I have concern about that.

If you want to view more clips, featuring terrible framing and some excellent hand gestures, click here.

Mayor asks Hartford residents to tell him what they think of his $3.5m Yard Goats bailout plan

Hartford residents wanting to express their feelings about the bailout plan in which they’d contribute $3.5 million toward cost overruns on the Hartford Yard Goats‘ $56 million stadium (already being built primarily with public money) have their chance at 5 pm today:

[Mayor Luke] Bronin has called a town-hall style meeting on the proposed plan — in which the city, the developers and the team all contribute additional money — to be held Monday beginning at 5 p.m. at Hartford Public Library on Main Street.

This should be loads of fun. The city council will also be discussing the plan tonight, which seemingly would make it hard for anyone who wants to attend both events — though I guess through the magic of Twitter, being in two places at one time isn’t as hard as it used to be.

Hartford mayor proposes $5.5m city bailout of Yard Goats stadium overruns

The stadium budget fiasco that is forcing the Hartford Yard Goats double-A baseball team to spend the first month of their inaugural season on an epic road trip has been tentatively resolved. As you probably expected, it did not end well for taxpayers:

The city of Hartford will finance $5.5 million of the $10 million shortfall to complete the new Yard Goats stadium after reaching a deal and he said the stadium is now scheduled to be completed by May 17…

According to the deal, DoNo Hartford LLC would be responsible for $2.3 million, the city would fund $5.5 million and the Yard Goats would fund $2 million. The deal also requires DoNo to pay $225,000 in extra taxes annually over the life of the bonds.

For those scoring at home, DoNo is the developer that promised to build the stadium, which the city is funding to lure the Yard Goats away from New Britain, which is pretty much the next town over. (Newington residents, I don’t want to hear about it.) An extra $225,000 a year in taxes over 25 years of bonds is present value of … I get about $3 million, but the Hartford Courant says $2 million, so okay. The upshot here, then, is the team is kicking in $2 million, the developer who messed everything up is putting in $4.3 million, and the city is putting in $3.5 million plus a $2 million loan to the developer that will be repaid over 25 years.

That’s pretty awful for a city that’s already on the hook for $56 million, but Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin defending throwing good money after bad on the grounds that in for a penny, in for a pound:

Bronin said no one wanted to put more money into this project, but the city of Hartford needs the project to succeed. It would be “on the hook for far, far more” if it was not able to come to an agreement to get the project back on track, he said.

The city would still be responsible for paying the debt service on nearly $60 million of debt for the next 25 years and there would be no revenue coming in to support it.

That sort of makes sense, except that the only revenue Hartford is getting out of the deal is $500,000 a year in annual rent payments. So at worst if the city had refused to bargain, it would be out half a million dollars if the team had to play the entire season on the road — while the Yard Goats owners would be losing out on an entire season of gate receipts, and DoNo would be responsible for damages of $15,000 a day. It sure seems like the city has bailed out both the team owners and the developer despite holding all the cards — or at least, is being asked to bail them out, as the city council still needs to vote on all of this. Please let them have some better legal and financial advice this time around.

Hartford Yard Goats to make fans drive eight hours to see their home opener

Yesterday was a big day in Hartford as well, where the owners of the newly anointed Hartford Yard Goats Double-A baseball team announced that they’re going to play the first month of their first season entirely on the road, since their new $56 million stadium won’t be ready in time for opening day, and maybe not ready for a while after that unless someone comes up with more than $56 million.

My favorite part of all this:

The Hartford Yard Goats first game will be on April 7 at The Diamond in Richmond, Virginia against the San Francisco Giants affiliate, the Flying Squirrels, and Yard Goats season ticket holders will be able to attend these road games, compliments of the Yard Goats, a statement from the team says.

How kind of the rest of the Eastern League! Now any early-adopter Yard Goats fans can go to games just by making the eight-hour drive to Virginia, whereas if the team had stayed in its old home of New Britain they’d be looking at a three-hour haul — and that’s if they went on foot.

As for when the Yard Goats will be able to stop emulating the Ruppert Mundys, that’s anyone’s guess: The team’s owner is still fuming at the city for what he says is incompetence, the city is blaming the developer who was supposed to build the stadium, and the developer is complaining that the city wouldn’t allow it to make cost-cutting design changes. Now somebody has to find about $10 million to get the stadium ready, or else the Yard Goats’ road unis are going to get all worn out by July. It’s almost like this was a pretty terrible idea to begin with.