Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin finally pulled the plug Monday on the embarrassment that is the construction of a minor league baseball stadium in the city, a mess he inherited from his predecessor. The developer, Centerplan of Middletown, has been booted from the project amid expressed doubts it could finish the project. But should officials have seen the problems coming? Centerplan, headed by former state Rep. Robert Landino, was late to finish at least one other public project contract, a deal it landed despite having no experience in the field.
Back in 2009 when the state was deciding between two private entities to refurbish and operate Connecticut’s highway restaurants, one was a group under which Centerplan would do the construction portion. That group, Project Service LL, was headed by Robert Landino’s brother Paul.
Requests for information from the state department of transportation (ConnDOT) about Centerplan’s performance on the rest areas project were met with general responses from spokesman Judd Everhart. “Overall, the DOT was quite pleased with Centerplan’s work…All 23 plazas have been completed, although there remains some minor ‘punch list’ work to be completed (landscaping, etc.) at some of the plazas. Virtually all issues regarding timely payments to Centerplan subcontractors have been resolved,” Everhart said. So seven years later and the rest area work is still not done and all the issues have not been resolved.
But when pressed for details on whether Centerplan was late to meet deadlines, Everhart said, “The construction did run longer than originally planned but because no two consecutive plazas could be closed at the same time a field condition on one site also impacted the start date on another site. With 23 plazas being renovated the delays were not beyond what might be expected of a project of this size and scope,” he said.
The Hanging Shad has made a Freedom of Information request to ConnDOT for copies of emails between the department and Centerplan regarding delays on construction work for the rest stops. The emailed correspondence has yet to be provided.
At the time, state officials questioned how Project Service (with Centerplan) got the rest area contract. The group never did such construction and no experience running such facilities. It was competing against HMSHost that internal ConnDOT documents called, “unquestionably the industry leader, with clearly experienced individuals who know the service plaza environment. … So we pick the guys who never did it before,” according to then-state Sen. Andrew McDonald, now a state Supreme Court Justice. Yet the Landinos landed the contract.
Centerplan has similarly never built a baseball stadium. The new venture in this case turned out far worse than the rest areas. Robert Landino is out and there is doubt the Hartford Yard Goats will play a single inning at Dunkin Donuts Park this season. Sad but perhaps predictable.