Plenty of goats in Hartford's baseball debacle

Hartford Yard Goats owner Josh Solomon promised he won’t watch his team play at their temporary home at Norwich’s Dodd Stadium.

“The first time I watch the Yard Goats will be in Dunkin’ Donuts Park,” Solomon said, referring to the still-under-construction capital city stadium mired in delays and controversy.

The events of this week now make it more likely Solomon, if he keeps his word, won’t be watching his team at all in 2016. City officials ordered developers off the site of the unfinished $63 million minor league baseball stadium Tuesday, just a day after announcing they intended to terminate the developer’s contract.

Just as Alice declared about her hallucinogenic adventures in Wonderland, the tale of the Yard Goats keeps getting “curiouser and curiouser.” It might even be labeled laughable if there wasn’t so much at stake. At least Mayor Luke Bronin, who inherited the stadium mess, deserves some credit for moving decisively to put the stadium project back on the right track.

The latest developments in the capital city fiasco come after a long string of broken promises, cost overruns and public finger-pointing. The Yard Goats were supposed to have the team’s home opener in Hartford April 7, until construction delays pushed that target off until May 31. After that deadline passed, the opening date was delayed indefinitely.

The Yard Goats continue playing home games on a borrowed diamond in Norwich as Hartford residents stand helplessly caught in a fray that in recent weeks included a war of words between the team’s owner and stadium developer. In seeming disregard for the facts, DoNo Hartford LLC, the master developer, and Centerplan Construction Co., the general contractor, continue to contend the park is nearly complete.

Solomon recently made a public show of releasing a list of still-outstanding stadium work, while the developer called it counterproductive and insulting to those laboring to complete the park. The true targets of insult in this whole mess, however, are the city’s taxpayers and residents. That includes those anticipating the 400 promised jobs at the new park and those hoping to spend pleasant summer nights enjoying ball games in their home city and Hartford’s impoverished North End neighborhood where the stadium is located.

Bronin this week fired the development team for failing to meet their contractual obligations and turned over the mess to Arch Insurance, the surety bond company, to straighten out.

The situation raises more doubts about the promises made that the stadium would be a huge economic boost for their city, fueling additional development around the ballpark. DoNo was supposed to be handling that development.

And while there will be no baseball played in Hartford anytime soon, this development disaster and the resulting legal disputes should keep opposing teams of lawyers busy for years.

What would be unacceptable is turning to the state for a financial bailout. This is Hartford’s problem.

Hartford’s quest for a minor league ball club to call its own began with a bad decision by former Mayor Pedro Segarra and has gone downhill since. Segarra subsequently lost the Democratic primary to Bronin.

It was never a good idea to borrow $60 million to build a new stadium in order to lure — some might call it steal — the former New Britain Rock Cats away from the economically struggling Hardware City located just 15 miles from Hartford.

The promise of a shiny new stadium was enough for Solomon to turn his back on some of the Eastern League’s most loyal fans. Rock Cats’ attendance stood near the top of the league for years.

Hartford leaders decided to take on the debt even as they sold city assets to pay bills, even as they laid off teachers and increased class sizes to balance the budget. Having made such a controversial investment, they needed to pull it off. Instead, Hartford officials failed spectacularly.

As it stands, we won’t shed tears for Solomon if he doesn’t watch his team play this season. Our sympathy is reserved for Hartford’s fans and taxpayers who deserved none of this: not the insults, not the delays; not the cost overruns and certainly not a possible legal tangle that could turn at least more of the city’s promised future financial gains to dust.

Optimists contend that while the construction fiasco is maddening, fans will forget the pain as soon as the crack of bats begins sounding at the stadium. Perhaps this is true. Given the blunders so far, however, we won’t be surprised if the string of misfortune is not yet complete.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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