The owner of a minor league baseball team and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra announced plans Wednesday to build a $60-million stadium in the capital city and move the Rock Cats 13-miles from New Britain to Hartford.
“We explored our opportunities and the ability to bring baseball to the capital city was a tremendous opportunity that we couldn’t pass on,” Josh Solomon, managing partner of the Rock Cats, said on the steps of Hartford City Hall Wednesday afternoon.
The Rock Cats, an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, and Hartford officials have been discussing the move for about 17 months. They said the plan is to have the stadium built before opening day in 2016.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said that moving the Rock Cats to Hartford will put the team in an easily accessible location between two major highways and will benefit the local economy.
“This is an economic development opportunity for our city which we simply could not pass up,” Segarra said.
The new 220,000 square foot stadium would seat about 10,000 spectators.
Segarra said there is sufficient parking in the area so they don’t believe it’s necessary to build additional parking.
“We’re excited what the new ballpark will have to offer to the fans of central Connecticut and we cannot wait for the first pitch in 2016,” Solomon said. “Like the mayor, we’re proud to be bringing baseball back to the city of Hartford.”
Minor league baseball was last played in Hartford in 1952.
Segarra and Hartford Council President Shawn Wooden signaled they had the support of the council to move forward with construction of the stadium. Segarra said they are exploring tax increment financing, which would use future gains in taxes to subsidize construction of the project. However, it was still unclear exactly how the city planned to pay for it.
Segarra said he’s hoping that this facility will be used year-round and will help connect the north end neighborhood to downtown. He said the city has already identified two developers capable of undertaking the project.
Officials estimated that the new stadium would create 600 new full-time positions and 900 construction jobs.
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart maintained Wednesday that until she hears directly from the Rock Cats management, she’s not convinced they will be leaving New Britain.
“I have yet to receive confirmation that they’re leaving New Britain,” Stewart said after an unrelated event. “I’ll patiently wait for my face-to-face meeting with them, but until then I would like to think that they would give me the decency of a meeting to inform me of their decision.”
Stewart said if they are planning to move to Hartford she’s baffled from a business standpoint. She said they pay $109,000 a year in rent and a share of the utilities in New Britain. From what she’s heard of the Hartford plans she believes New Britain is a better deal.
“I can’t imagine this is a financially prudent option for the team,” Stewart said.
Solomon didn’t have anything bad to say about New Britain. The team has been located there for 20 years.
“We’ve had a great relationship with the city of New Britain,” he said. “We have been there for 20 years, we’ve satisfied all obligations of our lease, and the lease is coming up [at] the end of 2015.”
The team’s lease in New Britain is up in March 2015. Stewart said if they decide to leave she would hunt for another minor league baseball team to call New Britain home.
Segarra said if Hartford hadn’t offered to build the stadium, the Rock Cats would have left the state.
The new Hartford stadium will be located at 1214 Main Street and will require realignment of Trumbull Street.
“This is an area that has not been developed for a long time, an area that has substantial growth opportunities,” Segarra said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who attended an unrelated press conference with Stewart on Wednesday, said he’s staying out of the dispute between the two cities.
“We were not involved at all,” Malloy said. “Listen, I’m a big believer in supporting communities with appropriate development.”
Malloy said he hasn’t seen the proposal and didn’t watch the Hartford press conference, so it’s too early to know whether legislative action would be needed to approve plans for financing the new stadium. No state money is currently involved.
“This is not a position I would want to put myself in to begin with. Two great communities, New Britain where I’ve made some pretty substantial investments to try and be helpful to the community and I believe we actually are being helpful to the community. As well as Hartford, where we’ve made some substantial investments particularly in the downtown.”
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.