Rock Cats Stadium A Great Idea — On Right Terms

The Hartford Courant

For each budget that I have worked on as Hartford council president, we have had to overcome one major challenge. Our expenses of running city government are greater than the revenues we have coming in to pay for our priorities. Each year, our expenses have gone up and our revenues have declined.

This trend is the biggest threat to our city's ability to maintain roads and parks, police our communities, educate our children and ensure essential services like trash collection and snow removal. So, we should all be clear about an important fact. Protecting taxpayers includes the obligation to grow our tax base in Hartford so that we may alter this negative trajectory.

Another important fact is that the North End, where I was born and raised, has been neglected for decades. For far too long, the area has struggled with high unemployment, inadequate schools, public safety issues such as drug and gun crimes, and infrastructure that is in desperate need of repair. Although no one proposal will fix all of these problems, we need to work together to achieve economic growth that is broad, deep-rooted and real for all the people of Hartford.

That is why I believe in exploring economic development opportunities that have the potential to create jobs, increase opportunities and make it easier to fund priorities like education and public safety. The proposed stadium for the Rock Cats deserves our consideration: If we can get it done without sacrificing other key priorities such as education and public safety, if it will lead to broader economic development in the immediate area, and if we can get it done without placing an undue burden on taxpayers.

The area where the proposed stadium would be located is a wasteland that has been the subject of decades of unrealized potential and broken promises. While I will not blindly support the stadium, I definitely will not support standing still and continuing to have valuable land that could improve our economy sit there like a pile of dirt. We deserve better.

But make no mistake, the stadium proposal is exactly that — a proposal. The city council was informed of this plan the day before it was announced and we are now doing what we did with the budget and have done with every proposal before us. We are examining it thoroughly to make sure that taxpayers are protected, our core priorities are not compromised and that the potential benefits are real.

This is not a done deal. I will continue to scrutinize the job and revenue projections, evaluate the economic development opportunities that could be created in the surrounding areas, get input from the public and, importantly, explore creative financing structures that protect taxpayers. I will not support this project if a single dollar is taken from our schools, a single cent is taken from public safety, or if any undue burden is placed on the taxpayers who I and the council have worked so hard to protect.

I will continue, however, to do what I did during the recent budget negotiations when we cut the budget and prevented a tax increase. I will make sure that the proposal serves the city, protects taxpayers and is done in a way that brings lasting benefits to an area that needs and deserves much more than the status quo.

Although I could support the concept of bringing professional baseball to Hartford if the terms meet the criteria I have mentioned here, we cannot put this entire project on the backs of our property owners. The city borrowing $60 million would do just that. I do not support any stadium deal that fails to provide lasting opportunities for our city. But what I do strongly support is my hometown thinking big, examining every opportunity, setting higher goals and exceeding them in a way that strengthens us now and in the future. If the proposal does that, I will support it. If it does not, we will continue to seek other opportunities to bring long-overdue progress to Hartford.

Shawn Wooden is president of the Hartford city council and is in the Aug. 12 primary for the Democratic nomination for the 2nd Senate District.

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