The threads of what Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra had formerly referred to as a “done deal” continued to unravel Wednesday evening, when he was forced to reword his original statement that building a $60 million stadium for a minor league baseball team was inevitable.
“The issue was whether the Rock Cats had decided to move to Hartford; whether it was a ‘done deal.’ In terms of them moving to Hartford and me as a mayor agreeing to receive them in the city,” Segarra said. “But I was very clear that this was subject to legislative approval.”
The statement was made during Wednesday’s two-hour public forum on the proposed stadium, during which nearly 300 people, mostly residents of Hartford, gathered at the Hartford Public Library to express concerns regarding the projected development — much of which was in opposition.
Though the “done deal” still has to be approved by the City Council, Segarra said he believed that constructing the stadium is the right choice.
“Downtown North has huge potential,” Segarra said. “We have this incredible opportunity to take this crater, this sea of highly un-utilized parking lots, and start putting up opportunities of development.”
Segarra, who was joined onstage by Thomas Deller, Director of the Department of Developmental Services for the City of Hartford, told the crowd that the construction of the stadium would create the equivalent of 665 full-time jobs and more than 900 construction jobs, and generate 23,700 hotel room stays annually.
But the document soliciting proposals for development of the area released just hours before the forum does not say that the project will employ Hartford residents. It does state that it has “targets and goals relating to local employment, job training and affirmative action.”
When she approached the microphone, Councilwoman Cynthia Jennings said that she and her fellow City Council representatives would refuse to pass the proposal if certain guidelines regarding employment and taxation were not met.
“This council is committed to this stadium only if Hartford residents don’t have a tax increase because of this, if Hartford jobs are identified for Hartford residents, and if Hartford businesses get the business that’s coming to them,” Jennings said.
In addition to the fear of a tax increase, many of the attendees admitted to feeling jarred by the mayor’s lack of transparency regarding the plans. In addition to the misleading “done deal” statement, Segarra had also announced that the $60 million dollar construction project would be backed with “borrowed money,” a financing plan that he recently amended to include private funding.
What the attendees disclosed as being even more unsettling was the fact that the past 17 months of planning for the project had been kept in secret until last month, as Segarra and other officials made their plans behind closed doors.
“Can you imagine the citizens of West Hartford, Wethersfield, Avon, or Simsbury being made aware of a big deal in this manner?” asked Ebony Murphy, who is running for lieutenant governor.
This lack of transparency led attendees of Wednesday’s forum to question Segarra’s credibility, a sentiment that culminated with one resident’s accusatory question of why she should “trust Segarra with [her] money.”
Out of the 40 residents who spoke, the majority dismissed the project outright, announcing that they doubted Segarra’s promise that the benefits of the project would outweigh the risk. From their places behind the two microphones set up for the public, several attendees denounced what they viewed as the project’s economic disparities.
“You’re doing this for the people who came in from the suburbs,” one woman said. “They treat Hartford like a toilet bowl — they come in, do their thing, and leave, and we don’t have the money to clean up after them.”
Several other residents announced that the “numbers don’t make sense,” signaling out the data released by the mayor’s office that predicted a 7,000 person attendance rate at ballgames, with 10 percent of attendees staying in Hartford hotel rooms. They suggested both statistics, and therefore the income garnered by the project, were “inflated.”
Even more questioned why the mayor felt he should allocate $60 million for a baseball stadium, while he had “done little” to amend the city’s education system, the closure of several public library branches, or the lack of public transportation.
Though he received a number of objections throughout the forum, Segarra remained outwardly positive, and continually listed the stadium’s potential to spur economic development, create jobs, and provide attractions as the major incentives for the project.
“I don’t think that the stadium is going to resolve all of the problems in our city,” Segarra said. “I can guarantee that it won’t. But I can tell you that a stadium in combination with housing, a supermarket, 1,200 units downtown, UConn, a Front Street that’s almost fully rented out and many other things that are happening can create a synergy that is needed to move a city forward.”