Testimony: Urging Caution, Common Sense
On Friday, February 16th, the State Bond Commission will consider the Captial Region Development Authority's (CRDA) request for $10,000,000 in public funding (read: taxpayer money) to renovate Dillon Stadium for Bruce Mandell's pro soccer enterprise.
Remember, Bruce Mandell and Hartford Sports Group are not investing any money — not one cent — in the stadium, in Colt Park, or in the surrounding community.
Instead, they expect state taxpayers to pay for upgrading Dillon to United Soccer League standards.
$10,000,000 from Connecticut taxpayers.
Because Dillon Stadium is a city-owned property, CRDA and Hartford Sports Group will need to negotiate with the City of Hartford before the project begins.
This past Tuesday, February 13, Civic Mind's TJ Clynch gave testimony at the Hartford City Council Meeting, urging Hartford's elected leaders to exercise caution, use common sense and — most importantly — put the people of Hartford first.
Read TJ's public statement:
I wanted to share concerns regarding CRDA’s proposed direction for Dillon Stadium and share what I see as systemic flaws in the process. Despite providing a proposal offering an initial investment of $1.5 million and a partnership with the Connecticut Association of Schools and the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, CRDA never interviewed our group.
Morally speaking, Dillon Stadium is a public park and infrastructure for our schools. The stadium’s future must be designed with the people of Hartford as our TOP priority. Against this backdrop, a single user group leading the design of the venue starting with their own needs is totally inappropriate. Rather, Dillon Stadium should be designed through a robust and inclusive public participation process to better understand the real needs of our community.
Financially speaking, a subsidy of ten million dollars to launch a speculative, start-up enterprise, with no prior experience in any facet of this industry — including stadium design or team operation — and no legitimate plan for community use, community labor or community benefits is totally unjustifiable corporate welfare. Bruce Mandell’s proposal is quite frankly, insulting to the people of Hartford and the taxpayers of Connecticut.
Practically speaking, the City of Hartford, nor CRDA, have the established staff or requisite expertise to execute this project. The COO, CFO, and Director of Development Services are all newly appointed while the role of Department of Public Works Director continues to be held in the interim by the Chief of the Fire Department. A project of this magnitude must be given proper attention by experienced professionals to be successful.
Even with CRDA’s assistance, there is not enough time to efficiently complete a stadium project in just 12 months without paying premium design and construction fees — and certainly would not allow for any meaningful public participation in the process.
In addition to designing and building a multimillion-dollar stadium, Hartford Sports Group would also be tasked to create a team from scratch, including building an entire organization, promoting a new regional brand, and executing a comprehensive sales strategy, in order to achieve their ambitious — yet promised — revenue targets.
This sense of urgency is totally manufactured for the sole benefit of Hartford Sports Group, and at the total expense of, the City of Hartford.
Meanwhile we talk about the community groups being excluded, when instead we SHOULD be talking about the group doing the excluding. CRDA, as an institution, is designed to fail the majority of Hartford’s citizens. A board of 12 people, 11 of which, as well as the Executive Director, are white, serving a city comprised of a total white population of just 16%.
In other words, white people constitute just 16% of our city, yet enjoy 92% of the power in spending our neighborhood development funds.
In turn, this group inherently values competition over collaboration; hoarding all of the decision making power while recognizing dissent as an enemy, offers grandiose plans rather than meaningful results while delivering their message paternalistically, believing they know what is best for the rest of us.
In addition to rejecting CRDA’s recommendation, and Hartford Sports Groups proposal, I ask Mayor Bronin and City Council to seek immediate reforms regarding the composition of CRDA’s Board of Directors to more accurately represent our community to create a more reflective democracy for the people of Hartford.