Tag Archives: New Britain Rock Cats

Hartford’s Budget Priorities

If you’re a citizen of Hartford, the state capital of Connecticut, you were probably looking forward to a pleasant Independence Day holiday weekend. Perhaps you might have enjoyed the city’s traditional fireworks display. Or you might have opted to watch a Free Movie After Dark in a public park.

Unfortunately, though, new Mayor Luke Bronin has canceled all such events. His rationale? The city is close to bankruptcy, and it cannot afford to finance any social or cultural programs for the general public.

By canceling the fireworks show, Mayor Bronin saved the city approximately $100,000. Or, more accurately, an amount less than $100,000, given that Hartford has traditionally shared the cost of the event with its neighbor East Hartford.

And by canceling the summer film schedule, Bronin eliminated $19,000 from the budget. He also saved Hartford an additional quarter of a million dollars by shutting down the entire municipal Marketing, Events and Cultural Affairs unit.

Thus, in total, the Mayor saved his metropolis a few hundred thousand dollars by eliminating all of these community events. And yet funding was available to stage these activities in past years. So where did the money go this year?

One place to search for the missing funds might be the city’s partially completed wreck of a minor league baseball stadium. Last year, Hartford’s predecessor mayoral administration announced that it would spend more than $60 million to lure the Rock Cats, a successful Eastern League team, to move fifteen miles from New Britain into the capital city.

New Britain’s mayoral administration and fan base protested mightily over the theft of their team. Nevertheless, Hartford’s then-Mayor Pedro Segarra was adamant that the $60 million investment would enrich his city. So did his strategy succeed as planned?

Hardly. The money was spent on construction, but the construction firm built a structurally flawed and uninhabitable stadium.

The city is now pursuing the firm in court, and the homeless team is playing its home games in Norwich (40 miles away from Hartford) and outside of Connecticut.

So if you’re a resident of Hartford, and if you miss your free summer fireworks and movies, you might think twice about your mayoral administration’s assertions that the city cannot afford the cost of those events.

Considering the $60 million that it recently committed to its disastrous attempt to lure New Britain’s baseball team, you might instead conclude that its ostensible scarcity of resources is simply a matter of funding priorities.

Indeed, rather than opting to spend money on community events and other public resources, your political leaders chose to reserve the funds for a private construction project to build an uninhabitable ball park for a privately owned team. And now you are living with the consequences of that decision.

Baseball Economics, Connecticut Style

Baseball fans may remember that this year will mark the 60th anniversary of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ historic underdog victory against the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series. Although the teams faced off five previous times for the championship, 1955 marked the first (and only) year that Brooklyn emerged victorious.

Two years from now, though, hardly any one in Brooklyn will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Dodgers’ decision to move to Los Angeles. It was the first time ever that a successful team, one that enjoyed extensive hometown support, opted to move to a new location in pursuit of a more profitable economic deal.

Dodger owner Walter O’Malley received 315 acres of prime city land from the city of Los Angeles for making that move. Although he remains reviled in New York as the villain who stole the Dodgers from Brooklyn, other owners of professional teams — such as Robert Irsay, who moved the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in the middle of the night to avoid public reprimand — have subsequently engaged in such moves as well.

A similar event occurred in Connecticut last week, when the owner of minor league baseball’s New Britain Rock Cats broke ground on a new ballpark in Hartford. Despite enjoying a history of thirty years in New Britain, and a ballpark that was custom-built for it with city funds, the team is now decamping for Hartford.

Who is paying for the new Hartford ballpark? Hartford taxpayers are footing the bill, of course. The structure is a core component of a new municipal development initiative known as Downtown North, or DoNo.

The plan is somewhat similar to Bridgeport’s Steel Pointe Harbor development initiative. That project complemented the public funding of a ballpark for minor league baseball’s Bridgeport Bluefish, a team that was recently criticized for making a “cheap and tawdry joke” out of Brian Williams’ NBC News suspension in order to improve its “sagging attendance.” Steel Pointe, itself, finally appears to be attracting some real estate development activity after stalling in the early 1980s.

Meanwhile, the Rock Cats are finding that the shift to Hartford is not bringing a flood of new corporate support. “The problem with the Rock Cats is the organization is moving 10 miles,” said Oz Griebel, president and CEO of the Metro Hartford Alliance. “You have a lot of hurt feelings from New Britain that need to be addressed even as the team looks for new partners in Hartford.”

So it remains to be seen whether the Hartford relocation will prove to be a successful decision, or whether the team will simply abandon one fan base without ever being embraced by another one. And although Brooklyn has recently luxuriated in newfound economic prosperity without its Dodgers, the future may not be as promising for the forsaken city of New Britain.