This week will bring the beginning of a trial between Hartford and the former developer of Dunkin’ Donuts Park, which is seeking damages from its removal from the project.
When construction began in February 2015, it was envisioned that Dunkin’ Donuts Park would open for the relocating New Britain Rock Cats–now the Hartford Yard Goats (Class AA; Eastern League)–at the start of the 2016 season, and anchor future development in the Downtown North area. However, the construction process was marked by several delays in overruns, prompting the city to terminate its agreement with the ballpark’s original developer, Centerplan Construction Co. and DoNo Hartford LLC. The Yard Goats ultimately played the entire 2016 season on the road before opening the facility in April 2017–after Whiting-Turner took over and completed construction–while the city later cut all ties with Centerplan and DoNo Hartford by terminating an agreement to redevelop properties surrounding the ballpark.
Centerplan and DoNo Hartford have sued the city, seeking $90 million in damages from their removal from the ballpark and development projects. The trial is set to begin this week and could carry considerable implications for the area surrounding Dunkin’ Donuts Park. As part of the legal dispute, Centerplan has placed liens on the properties slated for redevelopment, preventing the city from moving forward with another strategy to bring economic activity in the area. There are also considerable economic implications in play for Hartford, which has been showing signs of an economic turnaround after experiencing financial distress. More from the Hartford Courant:
“The downside of getting a big penalty is very large,” said Andrew Walsh, a professor of urban studies at Trinity College in Hartford. “This year’s budget cycle for the first time in many years is not so tough because of the adjustments made at the end of the Malloy administration. But if that goes south, it will be a bad scene.”
A controversial state bailout bolstered Hartford’s finances to the tune of $550 million, and a one-time, $20 million subsidy to close a year-end budget gap. City leaders say Hartford’s municipal finances are on the way to stability when just a year ago bankruptcy was on the table.
Although Dunkin’ Donuts Park is in full operation, Centerplan has placed liens on the surrounding parcels, effectively blocking development even as the city has identified another developer willing to take over the project.
The future of the area surrounding the ballpark, devastated when I-84 was built in the late 1960s, is equally important, Walsh said. The highway severed downtown from the city’s northern neighborhoods, and there has never been a recovery, he said. The city envisioned a mixed-use development knitting the two sections of the city back together again, an area known as Downtown North.
The Yard Goats have been a success at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, racking up strong attendance numbers since opening the facility, but development in the area has stalled amidst legal issues. Stamford-based RMS Cos. has proposed to redevelop 13 acres surrounding the ballpark over multiple phases of construction, but those plans have not officially moved forward with liens in place and the city seeking to resolve the current legal dispute.
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