Editorial: Take a Closer Look at Dillon
Today, the Hartford Courant published an editorial by Civic Mind founder TJ Clynch outlining the problems with Hartford Sports Group's Dillon Stadium proposal and the pitfalls of using public money to support private enterprise.
Our plan puts the people of Hartford first, envisioning Dillon Stadium as a public park for everyone –– including pro soccer teams –– to enjoy. Hartford Sports Group, led by Bruce Mandell, have the wrong approach.
Take A Closer Look at Dillon Stadium Plans
Hartford Courant editorial by TJ Clynch
Published December 9, 2017
Dillon Stadium is part of Hartford's long history of projects gone off the rails due to self-interest and political patronage. Among the proposals to revive Dillon, which were reviewed by the Capital Region Development Authority, our plan offers Hartford and its residents more than a new stadium. We provide an opportunity to build public confidence through transparency, clarity of purpose and community-driven decisions.
Our plan recognizes Dillon Stadium, an anchor of historic Colt Park, as a public space, which belongs to Hartford's residents. We believe the venue should be fundamentally designed as a shared resource for our schools and our community. Hartford should not sacrifice a cultural asset for the uncertain promise of economic development. The venue is uniquely positioned as a public park and should continue to exist for public benefit.
This renovation project is a matter of equitable access to safe, high-quality facilities for our students and community groups. Dillon Stadium represents an opportunity to create a shared, premier venue for all of Hartford schools in a city where respectable facilities are scarce. When Dillon is resurrected, we must focus on making our students and our community the top priority.
Hartford Sports Group, whose proposal was recommended by the authority, has expressly stated it has no interest in managing the venue beyond its private United Soccer League team. The group's public presentation described deferring the management of community programming to the authority. Since presenting its original plan to the public, Hartford Sports Group has walked back an initial plan to install a new turf playing surface, a crucial component that would maximize community use. Hartford leadership must ensure the community's needs are met with concrete commitments in the venue's design and operations.
Bruce Mandell of Hartford Sports Group claims the soccer team will attract more than 100,000 fans, a remarkable 45 percent above the league's 2017 average and within the top six draws in the whole league. The New York Red Bulls II, the closest USL team to Hartford, averaged just 632 fans per game last season. Mandell also describes the USL as the fastest growing soccer league in the world, but 14 teams have folded or moved since the league began in 2011 — a 33 percent failure rate. He also promises 45 full-time and 75 part-time jobs. These ambitious projections are a recipe for disaster and expose the taxpaying public to further subsidize a private enterprise in the future.
Our plan responsibly develops Dillon Stadium through collaboration, humility and patience. We propose pragmatically upgrading the venue over time based on community demand and beginning with private investment.
Our first development phase rebuilds the venue with a new turf playing surface for the adjacent Sports and Medical Sciences Academy and other Hartford schools. We have also partnered with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the governing body of Connecticut high schools sports, to develop a full annual calendar of regional events in Hartford including state tournament and championship games. As we formalize agreements with additional user groups, such as private soccer teams, the stadium can be upgraded further in smart, fiscally responsible phases. This approach establishes a venue Greater Hartford can share and invest in together.
Ultimately, Hartford leaders must learn from past mistakes and get our priorities straight. We must change our investment approach to public projects considering Connecticut's perennial budget crisis and our notorious track record developing regional sports venues. In this light, the authority's apparent willingness to fund a facility for Hartford Sports Group's minor league soccer team with taxpayer's money is unjustifiable and tone-deaf.
Hartford's city council must now find the courage to seriously assess the authority's recommendation and honestly evaluate the capital city's collective priorities. We urge the council to host additional public forums to invite further community discussion before accepting any proposal.
Are we to invest in a public park and shared asset for our schools and our community or fund a stadium for an individual private enterprise? Let's recognize this project as a turning point toward fiscal and social responsibility where we build things together that work for "we" first, not "me" first.
TJ Clynch is the founder of Civic Mind, a Hartford based community development company. Civic Mind's plan can be found at CivicMindStudios.com.