City Council President Shawn Wooden said Wednesday that he would not support building a $60 million stadium to lure the New Britain Rock Cats to Hartford unless the cost of the project is reduced, and unless the city gets private investment.
City officials have said they would reallocate and issue up to $60 million in bonds for the project, which has not been approved by the city council. Mayor Pedro Segarra, Rock Cats Owner Josh Solomon and Wooden announced a tentative deal with the minor league team on the steps of city hall two weeks ago.
But Wooden said Wednesday that he won’t back the proposal unless it is revised to decrease the overall cost.
“We’re not going to bond for $60 million on the city of Hartford taxpayers’ backs,” he said. “The amount of the project has to be lower than $60 million. I don’t believe municipalities should bear the entire burden of sports arenas or stadiums.” He declined to specify how much the price tag would have to be to get council approval.
Wooden said that even if the cost goes down, the city should seek private investment in the construction of the ballpark, which is projected to open in April 2016. Funding could come from corporations, private investors or developers “who put in their own money or raise money from investors,” he said.
“I’ve expressed the necessity that a significant part of the consideration of whether or not the project gets my support is going to be based on private sector participation,” he said. “I will not support a project that requires $60 million dollars of Hartford taxpayers’ money being spent.”
Since the city announced on June 4 its intention to build a stadium, it has received interest from private investors, Wooden said. He would not say who has expressed interest.
“I am aware of private investors’ interest,” Wooden said. “I have communicated that I would be very interested in private developers stepping forward. I think there needs to be a very robust conversation with the corporate community. I think that’s critical — corporate community buy-in and support — to this being successful.”
“We still need to vet the numbers; the jobs projections, the revenue projections. We have to make sure that the benefits to the city and to city residents are real and significant, and that the project cost doesn’t create an undue burden on city residents.”
We asked Segarra’s office if it was pursuing private investment for the stadium. The mayor’s spokeswoman, Maribel La Luz, replied by email: “We continue to pursue all available options.”
The city’s internal audit commission will meet this afternoon and consider whether to investigate the financial viability of building a baseball stadium in Hartford.