House Speaker Matt Ritter during a press conference on March 23, 2023. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

House Speaker Matt Ritter called Thursday for the state of Connecticut to assume ownership of Batterson Park, a 500-acre plot of land between Farmington and New Britain, which is currently owned by the city of Hartford. 

Ritter made the announcement during an afternoon press conference in the state Capitol’s Hall of Flags with support from the chief executives of all three municipalities. The park includes a pond, a boat launch and swimming opportunities but has been shuttered for the last eight years and requires significant refurbishment. 

In recent years, the three communities have discussed plans to renovate structures on the property in an effort to reopen the park. Ritter said those discussions inspired the plan announced Thursday. 

“What became abundantly clear is this is not a municipal asset,” he said. “This is not just a Hartford, Farmington, and New Britain asset. This is a state treasure. And because of that, today I’m here to announce that we will pursue the state of Connecticut taking over Batterson Park and operating it so that it can be the crown jewel of our state park system.”

It was unclear Thursday by what mechanism the state would come to own the park and how much such a plan would cost if the state were to purchase it. 

The municipal leaders who attended the press conference praised the plan. 

“When you think about underprivileged kids who live in the city of New Britain or the city of Hartford, this sometimes is their only option to go swimming,” New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said. Stewart said the state would provide an expected $10 million required to renovate the park. “It’s going to be a just wonderful, wonderful asset that we can all celebrate.” 

“Sometimes the most sensible solution is the simplest solution,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said. “In this case, the simplest solution is that this park, which ought to belong to everybody, should just belong to everybody.”

However, taking over the park may not be the simplest solution as far as the state is concerned. Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration eyed Thursday’s proposal with some skepticism. In a statement, his spokesman Adam Joseph said the governor looked forward to determining a sustainable solution with Ritter as well as other legislative and local leaders. 

“Proposing the State take over Batterson Park is no small ask, recognizing that repairs to properly reopen the park and provide appropriate access would require staff positions, significant capital investment, as well as additional ongoing operational expenditures to ensure the health and safety of visitors,” Joseph said. 

Ritter was optimistic and said existing statutes may allow the transfer without the passage of legislation. 

“To the extent it involves legislation, we have to pass a bill in the House and the Senate and the governor has to sign it. And that’s my job and the job of the legislators here to make that happen,” Ritter said. “Some have hopes and dreams in this place, we have ways and means.”