THE REAL COST OF THE CAR
We’ve all seen shiny new items we really wanted and figured, if we stretched a bit, we could afford them. Take my friend who saw a luxury car he really wanted. He had a good job and the payments were within his reach so he went for it. When I saw him a few months later he was back in something more within his means, having learned about the expense of maintaining that luxury car, insurance, diesel fuel, double the regular maintanence fees. He still drives a nice car, but he also has the money to do other things.
The Hartford city council has been shown a shiny new car it can’t resist, and today at noon it’s going to put that car in it’s garage. Last night the council voted to approve the funding and bonding for a 9,000 seat stadium at parcel 12B, just north of Interstate 84, to attract the Eastern League New Britain Rock Cats, the AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, to the capital city. The council was approached by the Solomon Family, owners of the Rock Cats, in search of increased revenue sources.
Yesterday I expressed my belief that the deal was flawed, there may not be enough time to approve the bonding, draw up blueprints, put every aspect of construction out to bid, being a publicly funded project, and get the stadium built, all in about 20 months. The stadium is the key component of the deal with the Solomons. If the city builds a stadium they’ll sign on for 25 years.
Now, let’s talk about putting gas in this car and keeping it operational. Crunching some numbers. The stadium is projected to cost between 40 and 60 million dollars. Let’s go with the benefit of the doubt, 40 million. The cost of the debt service will depend on the city’s credit rating. Again, benefit of the doubt, giving Hartford a AAA listing, let’s say 2%. The annual debt service will be two and a half million dollars, before the lights and water are turned on, before the grass is mowed, before the first toilet breaks down. The expense of maintaining the place will fall on a city already facing fiscal problems. It’s safe to say the Solomons aren’t in this to pay for upkeep, their involvement is strictly greed driven.
To build the stadium the city will acquire 15 acres of prime downtown real estate that may have no use right now but, if the council is serious about expanding downtown redevelopment, in 10-15 years could be used to develop a high end commercial zone. Such future use will be sacrificed to a stadium that will be used about five months a year.
As I pointed out yesterday there are a number of potential road blocks to having the stadium ready on time, beyond the short deadline itself. One environmental hold up could have the Rock Cats with nowhere to play in 2016, the year after their current deal in New Britain runs out. What then? Go back to New Britain and ask for a one year bridge for the team you’re stealing from them after three decades? If you’re New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart you’d have already attracted a single A team, territorial rights over which the Solomons won’t own, to take advantage of one of the greatest minor league situations in baseball and continue attracting the family crowds in record numbers while the Solomons are trying to convince Mrs. Jones in Simsbury and Mr. Smith in Farmington that it’s safe to walk their families through downtown Hartford on a summer night. If they do get them there, wait’ll they get a load of the downtown robber baron parking garage prices, or the parking tickets like the ones AHL fans and Big East women’s basketball fans regularly found waiting for them when they parked their cars on city streets after business hours, after the buses had stopped running, after the state and municipal buildings had closed.
Whalers Booster Club members might want to pay particular attention to the potential for failure that comes with this deal, because, if it does fail, there will be little chance of ever getting a new hockey arena for an NHL team. You’ll then be able to put the names Solomon and Sequerra right below Karmanos on the hit list of Whalers lore.
The Solomon family drove a shiny new car into Hartford, where city council members couldn’t wait to kick the tires. I just hope they also looked under the hood.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.