Three Make A Pitch To Overhaul Dillon Stadium

City and state officials overseeing the latest attempt to resurrect Hartford’s Dillon Stadium received three bids from interested developers Friday.

Bidders include Bruce Mandell, the president and owner of Data-Mail, a letter production facility in Newington; Aaron Sarwar, a West Hartford entrepreneur who last year acquired and rebuilt the Hartford City FC soccer team; and TJ Clynch, whose Civic Mind Studios was chosen in 2013 to redevelop Dillon, but was later terminated from the project.

Clynch sued the city in 2014 after Hartford leaders, having cut ties with him, awarded the project to another developer: Mitchell Anderson. Anderson planned to build a $12 million soccer arena with city funds, but his agreement with the city also collapsed after revelations that his business partner, James Duckett, had a felony embezzlement conviction and that the pair had failed to pay soccer players and subcontractors.

Anderson pleaded guilty to counts of fraud and money laundering. Duckett was convicted in July of 12 corruption-related charges. Both are scheduled to be sentenced this fall.

Clynch’s case against the city is pending. He has asked for at least $866,000.

Mandell said Friday that he and two partners would invest $7 million to $10 million in a soccer team that would play at Dillon Stadium. The as-yet-unnamed team would be part of the United Soccer League.

Mandell’s pitch does not include private funding for Dillon, however. He said Friday that he would look to the city and the Capital Region Development Authority to upgrade the aging facility.

Hartford officials have that said a modest-but-workable stadium could be built for around $10 million. The city and CRDA have not closed the door on paying for the renovations, but both said they do not have money set aside for the effort. City leaders are contemplating bankruptcy.

Sarwar, the West Hartford entrepreneur, has proposed putting $400,000 of his own money into renovations at Dillon. He said he would pay to upgrade the bleachers, restrooms, locker rooms and other amenities at the facility, but allow it to remain under city control.

His team, Hartford City FC — a part of the National Premier Soccer League — now competes in New Britain, but would move to Dillon. Team leaders are in talks to join a higher-level league, he said.

Sarwar’s plan does not ask for public assistance. He envisions smaller upgrades that would make the structure safe and compliant with standards set forth by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Clynch said his proposal calls for three phases of upgrades, each worth $6 million to $9 million. The stadium would be a community asset, but could also be used for soccer, he said. More details on his plan weren’t immediately available Friday.

CRDA issued a request for proposals last month after a flood of calls came in about Dillon Stadium, its executive director, Michael Freimuth, said. The agency will work with the city to review the bids and decide if one will be selected. The deadline to apply was Friday.

In its request, CRDA said it was aiming for a professional sports franchise, but was open to other plans.

Freimuth said Sarwar, Mandell and Clynch may be asked to participate in a public forum so residents can hear their ideas. He did not say when a developer would be chosen.

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