Hartford Courant: Hartford expects to be reimbursed shortly for $1.2 million parks trust fund loan to Dillon Stadium construction
Hartford expects to be reimbursed shortly for $1.2 million parks trust fund loan to Dillon Stadium construction
Hartford expects to be reimbursed shortly for a $1.2 million loan made in February to cover construction cost overruns at Dillon Stadium, a city spokesperson said Thursday.
The money’s return would be a byproduct of a settlement Hartford Athletic soccer CEO Bruce Mandell reached Wednesday for violating state election statutes. Mandell agreed to pay a $45,000 fine, bringing an end to his months-long investigation by the State Elections Enforcement Commission and potentially resolving a Hartford nonprofit’s reluctance to contribute money to the stadium project.
While the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving had agreed to put up $1.2 million to help cover about $4 million in cost overruns at Dillon Stadium, the organization decided to hold off while the elections enforcement case was pending against Mandell, who is CEO and chairman of the partnership that owns Hartford Athletic, the Hartford Sports Group (HSG).
Mayor Luke Bronin and Hartford city council agreed in February to prevent additional construction delays and bridge the budget gap, loaning $1.2 million to the Capital Region Development Authority, the quasi-public agency managing the stadium project. A city spokesperson said Hartford expects to be reimbursed shortly for the loan, now that the SEEC has voted to accept a $45,000 fine from Mandell for making illegal campaign contributions in 2018.
According to the SEEC, Mandell made $85,500 in campaign contributions last year to unsuccessful, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowskie, the state GOP and others. Many of them were made the names of his wife and their college-age daughter, most in violation of campaign finance laws.
On Thursday, Hartford Foundation President Jay Williams said the resolution was a “positive development for Dillon Stadium.”
“The Hartford Foundation’s $1.2 million commitment to community use of Dillon Stadium remains firm and we look forward to finalizing the necessary and appropriate details related to our investment," Williams said.
Neither Williams nor Mayor Luke Bronin said when the foundation may pay CRDA, which would then return Hartford’s $1.2 million. The city council’s resolution approving the loan does not specify a deadline for CRDA to make Hartford whole.
The advance came from the city’s parks trust fund, which is primarily used to pay for capital improvements in Hartford parks. Dillon Stadium is part of Colt Park and owned by the city.
Mandell’s settlement could have caused additional problems for the future of Dillon Stadium. Mandell and HSG would now be disqualified from contracting with a quasi-state agency like the CRDA until October, 12 months from the date of Mandell’s last violations.
Bronin and city council have already created a work-around to that problem. In February, they turned Hartford’s planned three-way contract with HSG and CRDA into a pair of contracts — one between the city and HSG, the other between the city and CRDA.
Last month, a state audit also determined that CRDA improperly spent more than $4 million in public funds on Dillon Stadium before it had reached those formal agreements. The state bond funds were earmarked for the stadium project, but were subject to various approvals, including the deal being formalized between the city and a professional sports franchise.
CRDA officials responding to the audit 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.
The Athletic, a United Soccer League team, played its first home game at the renovated stadium in mid-July with workers still rushing to finish work on the $14 million project, originally budgeted at $10 million.