Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra pulled his request for $60 million in public bonding for a new New Britain Rock Cats (Class AA; Eastern League) ballpark and will instead seek a developer to finance the project.
The withdrawal, coming in a letter to the City Council, came after intense crticism from taxpayers and politicians of all stripes about the play to use 100 percent public money to build the ballpark. Instead, the city will seek out proposals from developers to partner on a ballpark plan, which could still involve some sort of public funding of site improvements and prep in addition to supplying land. Segarra's office announced project plans would be due to his office on Aug. 1 and presented to the council on Aug. 11: that's an awfully tight turnaround for a $60-million project, though we suspect it will be pared down (both in terms of money and scale) once the private sector is involved. Still, city officials say they expect as many as four proposals from developers. There has been rumors the city was seeking a graceful exit from the ballpark deal; courting developers across the county in the last few weeks was a clear signal change was afoot.
Rock Cats owner Josh Solomon issued a calming statement, saying "additional private development and investment in Downtown North to assist in paying for the ballpark has always been the plan. We are extremely excited to be moving forward in Hartford." From the Hartford Courant:
Some business leaders expressed optimism that investors will be drawn to the possibilities of downtown, where there are hundreds of new apartments in the making and UConn's $115 million plan to relocate its regional campus to the former Hartford Times property. And in downtown's northern edge, a new skate park atop the I-84 tunnel is set to open Saturday.
Oz Griebel, CEO and president of the MetroHartford Alliance, the city's business chamber, said his group met with Segarra and major investors Thursday to discuss the stadium funding.
The move away from a taxpayer-funded ballpark "was becoming clear with each passing day, in terms of the reaction everyone was getting," Griebel said. The alliance also was concerned about such an impact on the city's debt load and already "deplorable" 74.29 tax rate, he added....
Under the initial proposal, Hartford's debt payments for a 20-year loan to finance the stadium would have been $1.5 million to $2 million in 2017 and about $4.3 million in later years. The Rock Cats agreed to pay the city $500,000 a year for the first 15 years of the lease, and $600,000 per year in the subsequent decade.
The team's lease at New Britain Stadium runs through the 2015 season.
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