Editorial: What’s next for Hartford? How about bull fighting?

Earlier this week, Hartford’s City Council voted in favor of a proposal to renovate Dillon Stadium, and officials are rallying that a sports complex is going to save the City of Hartford. Sound familiar?

On Monday, the city council voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) and Hartford Sports Group (HSG) to revitalize the stadium, and city officials are already boasting that they are going to bring professional soccer to the capital city.

Just months after the governor chopped education budgets across the state and just days after the lame duck governor handed out municipal grants as if there was a state surplus, Hartford’s Town Council voted to rebuild a dilapidated sports field. According to Gov. Dannell Malloy there isn’t enough money to renovate two bridges on Marion Avenue, but apparently price is no object when it comes to bringing a new sports team to Hartford. It’s getting ridiculous.

A $7.5 million discussion late last week blossomed into a $10 million bill for renovating the decrepit stadium that sits in the shadow of the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy, a Hartford magnet school. According to a report on NBCConnecticut.com, the state is footing the bill.

Sure, the stadium needs work. There are portions of the bleachers that are cordoned off by police tape, but how can this be more of a priority than fixing bridges or providing education, especially when the state is in a financial crisis?

Hartford officials boast that  a United Soccer League (USL) team could be playing in the stadium by next April. Mayor Luke Bronin told reporters that the stadium renovation will be a contribution to the revitalization of Coltsville and that the project will bring back to life a community asset.

Really? Didn’t state officials learn anything from the Dunkin’ Donuts Park fiasco that came in $10 million over budget and more than a year too late?

Of course, the Yard Goats ballpark was supposed to be the jewel in the middle of a $400 million redevelopment plan called “Downtown North” that was going to save the City of Hartford. The stadium, itself, looks great, but where is the supermarket, the brewery, the housing projects, the retail outlets, hotels, and restaurants that were promised when taxpayers were asked to foot the bill for the last project? It was all scrapped when the project spiraled out of control.

Of course, city and state officials were quick to point fingers at the developer during the Dunkin’ Donuts Park debacle. It was that corruption that killed the project, they said.

It sounds like déjà vu all over again.

With the recent announcement, it appears that Hartford’s focus has shifted to this new city-saving plan. Once again, taxpayers are going to be asked to foot the bill for a Hartford sports field that will do nothing for a dying city.

For its part, Dillon Stadium is no stranger to controversy. The last developers hired to renovate the stadium were accused of stealing city funds and were convicted on fraud and money laundering charges. Of course, that’s business as usual in Hartford.

We’re not against sports facilities or reinvesting in Hartford, but this is like watching a bankrupt homeowner replanting his lawn while the house crumbles and the electricity gets turned off. Perhaps this shouldn’t be the state’s top priority when roads and bridges are crumbling and deficits are rising out of control. Enough is enough.

To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.


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