Voice from the Community: Alyssa Peterson
We want to share a letter sent by Hartford resident Alyssa Peterson to CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth.
Alyssa attended the Authority's public forum and has followed the bidding process and news coverage about Dillon Stadium.
Her letter presents some of the community's concerns about the fair and equitable use for the facility.
From: Alyssa Peterson
To: Michael W. Freimuth
Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2018 2:03 PM
Subject: Dillon Stadium concerns
Having attended several CRDA board meetings in the past year, I am always impressed with the level of expertise exhibited by your staff when making presentations and I like listening to your own commentary given your real estate and asset development background.
A glaring visual, however, is that this entity and board preside over public funds and assets in a city that is heavily minority in population yet the CRDA organization and board have only one minority each. At times, some of the board members’ commentary sounds rather cavalier or “white” – as if they know Hartford better and what a particular area or neighborhood should have or be.
That feeling has been reaffirmed for me by the recent Dillon Stadium selection letter and latest Hartford Courant reporting. It sounds as if CRDA “knows what’s best” for Hartford and has gone way beyond the purview expected in order to enable a private entity to maximize use of a public asset and public bond dollars, to the possible exclusion of Hartford users and others. In fact, it would appear CRDA has extended itself so far beyond what was expected that it’s very possible Hartford will be led down the same path as the baseball stadium project, i.e. litigation and delay.
CRDA should change course quickly to continue maximizing philanthropic gestures extended to Hartford, similar to the insurance company fund pledges. Investor/partner Mark Greenberg’s earlier letter of financial support for the Dillon Project is attached. I understand he may now be willing to further finance the project because CRDA has revealed its willingness to bond project dollars in exchange for a tenant lease and admission taxes. I have firsthand knowledge that this man gets his real estate projects done. A contractor used to walk me through the Simon Foundation during construction and my niece attended a magnet school that was temporarily housed in one of Mr. Greenberg’s buildings. One was design-build and the other was rapid rehabilitation of a corporate structure to accommodate a magnet school.
Because of the availability of funds from an experienced real estate manager and developer, it would seem a compromise solution negotiated between ALL three RFP respondents is in order. It could yield: A professional soccer team with a revamped Dillon Stadium as its home; event and stadium management handled by an investor/philanthropist team willing to share in the cost of rehab of the public asset; and, an amateur soccer team also able to make use of the field for several games.
It’s truly the best of all possible scenarios because absent the acceptance of the Greenberg offer, CRDA will wrongly use neighborhood development funds to enable a private investor to create a private team with speculative return on admissions taxes. CRDA’s bond funds made available by the Legislature were targeted for neighborhood development, not a tourist attraction. If this were a situation where the City owned the team, perhaps such a large chunk of the remaining public bond dollars available to Hartford might be convincing.
CRDA should immediately engage with Mr. Greenberg and his team and discuss an alternative management approach to Dillon Stadium that allows a win-win for ALL three respondents. Absent such a willingness to sit down and discuss alternatives, I know myself and others can launch a public effort that could defeat current leasing efforts. Pursuant to Hartford’s charter, any lease of City property beyond 180 days must be approved by Council. With the new 2018 Council, there is greater potential for 5-4 minority party-led voting due to dissatisfaction with Mayor Bronin and his top administration, who are now also in the middle of a residency debacle that has affected one of your board members. Those votes in particular are not sympathetic to “corporate welfare” to use a crass term. And with Council members coming up for re-endorsement next year, many must demonstrate they are acting as better stewards of Hartford.
The Mandell plan met only one of your RFP scope criteria while the others were agreed to be performed by CRDA after deadline submission. Clearly, you can understand why members of the public might think CRDA acted falsely when it eliminated the other four RFP requirements in favor of the Mandell soccer team plan. Anyone could see that plan provided zero investment for the required upgrade and repair of Dillon, see RFP Scope #2 pg. 3. In addition, CRDA has assumed the costly role of manager instead of the Mandell team, contrary to RFP Scope #3. And there is no way a professional soccer team alone could “compliment and assist Colt Park renewal and recreational programs operating within the Park,” nor can it “spur other community redevelopment and renewal within the U.S. National Park area”, per Scope #4 and #5. Where is there redevelopment in DoNo as a result of a baseball team moving in?
Bottomline, public or political tolerance for another fleecing of Hartford residents and public bond dollars similar to the baseball stadium is ZERO. City politicians and voters will never again be fooled by phony stadium pro formas, false bond issues and a giant tax bill levied on Hartford. A compromise agreement should be the new norm here especially where use of an existing public facility is being negotiated. Mr. Mandell’s team could still be the primary tenant, however, there is a more comprehensive role that both Civic Mind, investor/ philanthropist Mark Greenberg, and Hartford City FC can play.
In closing, I am sending this letter of concern well in advance of the CRDA presentation to be given on January 30th at the City's Parks and Rec Advisory Committee [PRAC] meeting. I expect many members of the public to attend. You will please compare your RFP process to the recent MIRA/DEEP trash plant process, where bidders whose proposals neglected to include a yearly payment to the City failed or were disqualified. That was a requirement of the RFP. Here, CRDA has done the opposite and rewarded the bidder that was most non-responsive in scope? Certainly, the Civic Mind team and Hartford City FC respondents had no idea of CRDA’s willingness to devote so much public bond dollars or its willingness to assume the costly role of real estate developer or operational manager. I am 110% certain that RFP submissions would have been different otherwise and Hartford would be better off. There is also growing concern that discussions with Mr. Mandell or his project team may have been ongoing with some CRDA board members long before this proposal process started.
You’re a professional dealmaker, Mr. Freimuth, please quickly engage as described above and come up with alternatives including all three respondents. It’s still early enough in your contracting phase. Otherwise, I am quite sure the lease deal as described in the Courant will be D.O.A. when it finally arrives at the new City Council, or will become otherwise legally entangled.
Finally, a very viable alternative for myself and other like-minded residents, is to get a Council resolution passed directing the City to engage with the Civic Minds team and Mr. Greenberg to determine if the investment offered could be used to quickly complete the 2014 Dillon plans, see attached. That price tag was approximately $1 - 1.2 million as I recall. We would be foolish to turn away a philanthropic investment opportunity to revamp Dillon that benefits Hartford and a community of interested stadium users.
cc: Suzanne Hopgood, CRDA Chair
City Council members
Interested Community members