Hartford mayor scraps $60m bond sale for Double-A team, instead proposes “public-private” mumble mumble something

Faced with many many people very unhappy with his plan to sell $60 million worth of bonds to build a stadium for the New Britain Rock Cats, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra accounced on Friday that he was scrapping the bond sale and replacing it with, um, splunge:

The council is expected to see a new resolution for the stadium at its Aug. 11 meeting, Segarra said. That plan would be contingent on the “public-private partnership” that has yet to be determined; proposals from developers are due Aug. 1.

From the sound of it, Segarra is now hoping that accompanying housing and retail development will somehow generate enough money to pay for the ballpark, though whether that’s “private developers are so desperate to build housing in downtown Hartford that they’ll fund a stadium just to get to do it” or “enh, let’s just kick in a bunch of property tax revenues to pay off the stadium bonds and call that ‘private’,” who the hell knows. It’d be nice to think that we’ll actually learn what the proposal is before the August 11 meeting — you know, so that people can actually comment on it — but don’t hold your breath.

Minor-league stadium plan costing Hartford shot at supermarket’s 250 jobs

Connecticut state senator Eric Coleman had an op-ed in the Hartford Courant yesterday outlining why he thinks spending $60 million in city money on a stadium to lure the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats to town is a lousy idea, an argument that you can probably picture just from the phrase “$60 million in city money on a stadium to lure the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats to town.” He does add one interesting piece of information, though, that we haven’t discussed here before:

Two weeks after the Rock Cats deal was announced on the steps of city hall, we discover that the site of the proposed stadium was (until recently) the planned home of a 50,000-square-foot grocery store, most likely a Shop Rite. The supermarket would have been part of an $80 million mixed-use development, including apartments.

As the Courant reported last week, it’s actually an adjacent piece of land. But the supermarket plan has indeed been scrapped because the Hartford Community Loan Fund, the non-profit that had hoped to develop the project, says it’s not compatible with a minor-league baseball stadium.

Coleman says this is a waste as Hartford badly needs decent supermarkets, which it may well. But even in gross economic impact terms, now we have a basis for comparison: A 50,000-square-foot supermarket, if we can believe this randomly Googled press release, creates an average of 250 full-time jobs. A minor-league baseball stadium creates 25-30 full-time jobs, plus a few hundred part-timers. That’s not a great tradeoff, even if you assume that more of the supermarket spending would be cannibalized from other stores in the city than the baseball spending would be from other local entertainment options. (Which probably isn’t a good assumption, anyway, given that Hartford residents currently spend $40 million a year on buying food outside of Hartford, because options inside the city are so crappy.)

Plus, since the supermarket plan would have been at least partly financed by a private developer (no final deal was in place, so we can’t say precisely how it would have worked out), the city would then get the benefits of whatever else it wanted to do with its $60 million. It’s still not quite an apples-to-apples comparison — the city, for one thing, insists that a stadium and a supermarket can coexist — but it does give some sense of how crappy the typical sports development project looks compared to building just about anything else you can imagine.

Hartford Double-A stadium would fall woefully short in job creation, local newspaper fails to notice

An article in yesterday’s Hartford Courant analyzed the proposed $60 million deal to bring the double-A New Britain Rock Cats to town, and found that the key to making it pay off in job creation will be “keeping the park in use throughout the year with lots of concerts and other events.”

Okay, that seems reasonable — the more the stadium is in use, the more people will have to be employed there. Who did the Courant get its information from?

“That’s the number of jobs that will have to be filled,” said the [Hartford city] consultant, Jason Thompson, a vice president at the Brailsford & Dunlavey management firm… “Brand new, successful ballparks operate this way.”

Okay, so the guy the city is paying to estimate its job creation projections (650 full-time equivalent jobs, if you were wondering) thinks that it will create jobs in line with what he projects it will create. What else you got, Courant? Let’s see, the director of a “year-round” ballpark in Birmingham, Alabama that has 25 full-time staff and between 75 and 275 part-timers on event days, which is a lot less than 650 full-time jobs. The president of a team with another minor-league stadium in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which despite nearly 600 (!) events a year has just 30 full-timers and 600 part-timers.

Finally, at the very end, we get an actual brief quote from someone who isn’t in the business of promoting the economic benefits of minor-league stadiums:

“Certainly 600 seems way out of the ballpark,” said Nola Agha, an assistant professor of sports management for the University of San Francisco. “You’re never going to get close to that 600 number in reality.”

The story here, then, seems to be that even the most successful minor-league baseball stadiums come nowhere near generating the kinds of jobs that Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra is promising. (It’d also be interesting to hear how many of Birmingham’s events, say, could be held year-round in considerably chillier Hartford, but that’s something else the Courant didn’t explore.) Instead, we get the headline “In Minor-League Cities, Stadium Use Key To Job Creation” — which is true, so long as you acknowledge that it’s the key to the difference between crappy and crappier.

[UPDATE: Meanwhile, the Rock Cats owner says he had to engage in secret negotiations to move the team because a Red Sox prospect slipped and sprained his ankle on wet turf in New Britain two years ago. Really.]

Hartford residents slam Double-A stadium plan at comment session

Shadow puppet plays are one thing, but this item from Hartford is the first time I can recall a poetry slam breaking out at a stadium funding hearing:

In short, rhyming bursts, Chris Brown summed up the feelings Monday of dozens who spoke about a proposed minor league stadium in Hartford.

“In a startling announcement on the sunny fourth of June, from left field came a stadium surprise that afternoon. With dicey-looking figures and mathematic wiggle room, we saw the latest road map to efficient fiscal doom,” Brown told city council members during a public comment session at city hall.

“Must cities always kiss up to the whiter-collared set, when the needs of people living here you seem to just forget? Seems like fixing up our neighborhoods would be a better bet. Or plowing piles of snow instead of giant mounds of debt.”

There were plenty of other comments as well (“These stadiums always cost more than projected, and they generate much less”), though less metrically impressive ones. The Hartford city council still needs to vote on Mayor Pedro Segarra’s $60 million plan to build a stadium to lure the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats to move ten miles northeast, with a full hearing set for July 21. This could only be improved if all members of the council were required to hold their discussion in rhyming couplets.

Hartford to spend $60m on stadium to lure Double-A team from 10 miles away in New Britain

The mayor of Hartford, Connecticut wants to spend $60 million building a stadium to lure the New Britain Rock Cats to his city. That would be the minor-league baseball New Britain Rock Cats of the Double-A Eastern League. Mayor Pedro Segarra said that the stadium, which will cost the city $4.3 million a year in debt payments while the Rock Cats pay $500,000 a year in rent, will provide “an infusion of jobs and opportunities” for north Hartford, while preventing “the Rock Cats from leaving the state of Connecticut.”

We will now pause to allow you time to laugh, boggle, or sob incoherently at the state of humanity.

Nobody quite understands where this came from: The Rock Cats have had good attendance numbers and play in a stadium that is only 18 years old. There have been rumors that the team owners were talking about moving the Springfield, Massachusetts, but those have only emerged since the Hartford news was announced, so it’s impossible to say whether they’re real or a pretext. And in any case, New Britain officials don’t appear to have been given a chance to negotiate to keep the team in town; as recently as two days ago, the mayor of New Britain tweeted: “SPOILER ALERT: The Rock Cats aren’t leaving New Britain.”

So: $60 million for a stadium to lure a Double-A team from southwest Hartford County to central Hartford County, a distance of about ten miles. Happy Thursday.