Hartford Courant: State Audit finds CRDA improperly spent more than $4 million on Dillon Stadium
A state audit of the Capital Region Development Authority charges the agency with improperly spending more than $4 million in public funds on Dillon Stadium construction.
The audit states that the CRDA spent $4,039,356 on stadium construction between July 20, 2018 and Feb. 24, 2019 without a formal agreement in place between Hartford and a professional sports team. The funds for the project were approved by the State Bond Commission but subject to various approvals, including a deal between the city and a professional sports franchise being formalized.
A deal wasn’t finalized between the city and Hartford Sports Group, which owns USL Championship team Hartford Athletic, until Feb. 25 this year.
“The authority did not comply with the State Bond Commission and its board of directors’ requirement that an executed agreement be in place prior to spending bond funds,” the audit states. “It appears that the agreement between the City of Hartford and the professional sports team (Hartford Athletic) was delayed while contractual details were being worked out. Management moved forward with the project without an executed agreement in place."
The auditors recommend the CRDA “meets the terms of its board of directors and the State Bond Commission prior to spending bond funds" going forward.
While CRDA officials did not deny the funds were improperly spent, they said “the criticism omits any acknowledgement of all the factors in play at the time" including the urgency in getting the project done in time for the soccer franchise to begin play at Dillon Stadium.
“Deliberative and exhausting analysis and risk assessment by management was reviewed and supported by the board of directors last summer in order to keep the Dillon Stadium project on schedule," CRDA chair Suzanne Hopgood said in a statement.
CRDA executive director Michael Freimuth attributed the delay in an agreement between the city and team being finalized to the length of time spent drafting the deal by attorneys.
“The board carefully measured this risk and took steps to keep the project alive while the ‘Ts’ were crossed," he said in a statement.
“There was never any doubt that the Hartford Athletic would play anywhere else other than Dillon Stadium Hartford," Hopgood added.
In discussing the findings with auditors, CRDA officials noted that Mayor Luke Bronin, the city council president and secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management were all “routinely briefed on both the status of construction and the various legal and funding agreements” at CRDA meetings.
Dillon Stadium was not ready to open at the beginning of Hartford Athletic’s inaugural season, which began March 9, with the team instead using Rentschler Field for its first seven home games. The team has played three games at Dillon, although construction at the stadium remains unfinished.
The start of construction on the $14 million project was pushed back when bids for the project came in too high, necessitating changes to the design. Construction was further delayed by rain and an investigation into the team owner.
The stadium opened July 13 with only some of the bathrooms in operation because water testing and plumbing had not been finalized. The team’s games in July and August are also being played at 5 p.m. when it is still light out as the franchise waits for lights to be installed. Each week, city inspectors have to visit Dillon to reissue a temporary certificate of occupancy.
The team is 4-4-15 this season.
Read the Hartford Courant’s original story here.