It’s sunny and in the 70s as I write this; it would have been a beautiful day for baseball in Hartford. But sadly, thanks to contractor bungling, it looks like we may not get to hear the crack of the bat at the tantalizingly-close-to-done Dunkin’ Donuts Park until 2017.
It’s tempting to just throw up our hands at this point and say, “It’s Hartford. Of course it’s a hopeless mess!” But we should resist. The best days of the ballpark and the capital city are ahead.
How did we get to the point where we have a mostly finished ballpark padlocked, the developer fired, and a baseball team playing “home” games 40 miles down Route 2 in Norwich? The city and ownership say the developer, Centerplan, chronically misses deadlines and is incapable of delivering on promises. Meanwhile, the developer says the city kept making changes, which blew the schedule and caused the delays.
I’m much more tempted to believe the city’s version of things, especially because Centerplan has never built a baseball stadium and they have a history of running late, according to Patrick Scully, who opines at The Hanging Shad.
Whoever the culprit, the developer missed both the original opening day and then a revised May 31 deadline. The latest head-clutching outrage, and the last straw for Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, was when the developer said they’d need a further 60 days to bring the place up to code. At that point the city pulled the performance bond, which calls for the insurance company to investigate, and kicked the developer off the project.
There’s a possibility that if the insurers find against the developer, they could force them to complete the ballpark at some point this year. Don’t get your hopes up, though. We’re still not likely to see baseball played there until next April.
In hindsight it should have been easy to see this coming. One year from start to finish is a very tight timeline for something as big and complicated as a ballpark. The Yard Goats’ former home in New Britain was built in just a year, but there’s a huge difference between building a stadium on an empty field in a park and building one in downtown Hartford.
Also, the whole move from New Britain to Hartford seemed incredibly rushed and ill-thought-out. The process, which involved secret meetings, dubious financing proposals, and deep opposition from many parts of the community, stank to high heaven from start to finish.
Turns out it’s harder to move a baseball team a few miles down the road now than it was in 1982, when Joe Buzas moved the then-Bristol Red Sox from Muzzy Field to a hastily-refurbished high school stadium in New Britain. The minors are big money these days, and fans have much higher expectations than the shabby metal bleachers of old Beehive Field that I sat on with my dad when I was a kid.
The delays are a huge loss for Hartford. Less so for New Britain, it turns out — their new Atlantic League franchise, the Bees, is drawing a decent number of fans to New Britain Stadium this summer. But for the capital city, it feels like one more failure in a long line of them.
I don’t believe it will matter as much as people think, though. By next year baseball will happen, and this will fade into the past. And more importantly, downtown Hartford is poised to have a very big couple of years.
In 2017 the new UConn Hartford campus will open on the site of the former Hartford Times, the beautiful façade of that building kept intact, and downtown will be filled with students. A Barnes & Noble will open to support the university, and the corridor between Main Street and the convention center will be full of life.
By early 2018 the first trains of the new Hartford Line commuter rail service will pull in to Union Station, and the already-successful CTFastrak will hopefully have expanded across the river to East Hartford and Manchester.
Combine that with a new hotel going up just north of downtown and an increasing number of high-end apartments occupied in the former Bank of America building and elsewhere, and the long-stalled engine of the city center seems finally ready to roar to life.
It can be hard to believe in Hartford, especially now, and these delays are incredibly frustrating. But I have waited my whole life to see Hartford bloom. I can be patient for a little while longer.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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