Proposed bills would provide funding for Dodd Stadium improvements
Norwich — When the state legislature gave state ticket tax exemptions to sports stadiums and arenas, allowing the dollars to be diverted for upgrades or to defray construction costs, the city-owned Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium in Norwich was left out.
Exemptions on paying the 10 percent per ticket admission tax for other stadiums — including Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford, New Britain Stadium, the XL Center in Hartford and Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport — were eliminated in December 2017 in response to the state budget crisis.
But all four Norwich legislators have co-sponsored a bill for the 2019 General Assembly session that would give Dodd Stadium the exemption for the first time. The bill calls for diverting admissions tax revenue from events at Dodd Stadium “into an account used for the support of said stadium.”
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and state Reps. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, Emmett Riley, D-Norwich, and Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, whose districts include Norwich, also submitted a second bill asking for a $500,000 state bond through the state Department of Economic and Community Development “for the purpose of providing a grant-in-aid to the city of Norwich for the repair and rehabilitation of a roof, fencing and masonry at Dodd Stadium in Norwich.”
The minor league baseball stadium, home of the short-season Class A Connecticut Tigers and host to numerous college and high school games each spring, was built in 1994 for $10 million, mostly funded by the state. Over the years, the city has put in about $1.8 million in upgrades. But without a dedicated capital improvements fund, the nearly 25-year-old stadium needs attention.
The Norwich City Council last spring approved $800,000 to replace stadium lights — which no longer meet professional baseball standards — and replace the aging and failing heating and ventilation system and possibly extend protective netting around the infield.
Mayor Peter Nystrom said city leaders met with the legislative delegation in the fall and discussed Dodd Stadium as one of the city’s priority requests for state assistance. City officials are in negotiations with the Connecticut Tigers owners to extend the team’s 10-year lease of the stadium. The stadium upgrades will be part of the city’s commitment.
Nystrom said he hopes the city’s $800,000 bond will show state officials that the city is investing in the stadium, as well. “We’re doing our part,” he said.
Glenn Carberry, a season-ticket holder, led the effort in 1994 to bring professional baseball to Norwich. Carberry in 2016 urged the City Council to demand equal treatment for Dodd Stadium in the ticket tax exemption. At the time, the exemption had just been granted to Dunkin’ Donuts Park, and Carberry said Norwich should have demanded equal treatment, recommending the diverted ticket tax revenue go for stadium capital improvements.
Carberry on Wednesday said even though the exemptions were removed for the other stadiums, the state still has given more support to Dunkin’ Donuts Park than it deserved. The Hartford stadium was marred by cost overruns, construction delays and contract disputes. Dodd Stadium, Carberry has boasted for years, was built “on time and on budget.”
Carberry said the original business plan he wrote for Dodd Stadium in 1994 called for money from stadium revenues to be set aside each year for capital improvements. That was never done.
Tigers general manager Dave Schermerhorn said the admission tax paid by the Tigers varies each year depending on attendance, but generally ranges from about $30,000 to $40,000. State Department of Revenue Services statistics for the 2017-18 fiscal year showed the state raised $11.28 million from the 10 percent admissions taxes on “places of amusement, entertainment or recreation.”
Osten agreed that Dodd Stadium should have received the same exemption that the Hartford stadium received in 2016. She said the delegation attempted to get the exemption for Dodd Stadium last year but did not introduce a formal bill.
She agreed with Carberry that even though the Hartford exemption was removed, “there’s still some upside to the Yard Goats stadium that Dodd Stadium doesn’t have.”
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