Will Conn. Taxpayers be the Goat in Hartford Baseball Stadium Saga?

Did anyone—and I mean absolutely anyone—think the Hartford minor league baseball stadium would be built on time, on budget or either? If so, I’d like whoever did to call me immediately with the winning Powerball numbers. There was never any chance of it. The question now is whether Connecticut taxpayers will be on the hook for a bailout.

The Shad caught some serious flack back in the spring for asking questions about the stadium’s financing. This might be “inside baseball” (ha!) but when I asked questions about how the two Democratic state senators representing Hartford had differing ideas as to how the stadium should be paid for, a certain Democratic legislative insider and former colleague, in concert with a union hack, went to great lengths to try to kill my story (to no avail, of course). Now, nearly eight months later, the stadium project is a mess.

Dunkin’ Donuts Park, the future (?) home of the Hartford Yard Goats, is at least $10 million over budget and mostly likely won’t ready for opening day. Come April 7, the Yard Goats will not be running on Dunkin’ and the Eastern League is not happy about it. The Goats’ major league affiliate Colorado Rockies have noticed too.

It’s the Big Dig of baseball and it sits uncompleted in Hartford’s north end like the hulking mass of metal that a “Yard Goat” truly is. The developer blames the city. The city blames the developer, blah, blah, blah. Shocking.

yard-goat

Back in the spring when The Shad irritated the former legislative coworker by actually asking pertinent questions, Democratic state Senators John Fonfara and Eric Coleman had differing ideas of how to finance the project. Fonfara sponsored a bill to direct state tax money to the project. The idea was to earmark some of the tax money fans would pay for tickets to Hartford Yard Goats games back to the stadium’s cost.

Coleman was a vocal critic of the project and campaigned on an anti-stadium position in the 2014 election. He had a particular problem with any public financing. Fonfara’s bill would transfer money from the state general fund for stadium debt. Coleman did not get the party endorsement but won the primary and the general election. Fonfara’s struck out with his bill.

The issue came to light last year when Senate Republican Majority Leader Len Fasano implored Gov. Dannel Malloy to hold to a pledge to not let any tax money go to the stadium development. Fasano said at the time, “It’s unacceptable at a time when [Malloy] is proposing draconian cuts to social services and core government functions. How can anyone sit back and cut funding for mental health care and the disabled while handing taxpayer dollars to a ballpark? It’s just not right. And it’s something the governor vowed he wouldn’t do.”

Now that the stadium project is in trouble, Fasano is sensing that the Yard Goats may come to the state with their hooves out for some help. “The problems Hartford is facing regarding their stadium are serious, but in no way, shape or form should they resort to a state bailout. I sincerely hope Hartford can figure out a way to move forward with their stadium, which the city has already invested in enormously. But that solution cannot involve a dime of state taxpayer money,” said Fasano.