Editorial: Dillon Stadium Plan Has Promise

Done right, Dillon Stadium could be an asset to the city of Hartford. Done wrong, it's a money pit. At the moment, it's neither — just some rickety bleachers, a field and a ton of potential.

But news that the Capitol Region Development Authority will oversee a public-private partnership to redevelop the stadium is good news indeed.

In late November, CRDA announced its support for a plan pitched by Woodbridge businessman Bruce Mandell, whose Hartford Sports Group would pursue a professional soccer team to play in the new 6,000-seat stadium.

Hartford Sports Group would spend up to $10 million of its own money. Up to $7 million in public money would also be involved.

That raises an eyebrow, especially when the previous plan to redevelop the stadium with public money led to the criminal convictions of the developers hand-selected by the city. But the new plan eases a number of concerns.

First, CRDA would have oversight of the project. That's a big plus. Historically, handing the keys and the money over to developers with little or no experience has been a bad move for the city. The plan needs someone to usher it through to completion and make sure the developers are on target. The city is without a director of development after the last one resigned recently amid questions about whether he is a city resident. The CRDA might be the right sponsor.

Also, the public money would be state money, not city money, from an account already set aside for neighborhood projects, according to CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth. The city, which owns the stadium, narrowly avoided bankruptcy last year. It is now under a state oversight board and is in no position to underwrite the renovation of Dillon.

While the state must be cautious about every penny it spends in the current climate, this investment could be a smart one.

Whether a soccer team is the ideal tenant is an open question. Professional soccer has never taken off in central Connecticut, despite a number of attempts. Is this time the charm? It's a good sign that Mr. Mandell's group is willing to invest $10 million to find out — it's in everyone's best interests to make sure this works.

Beyond soccer, a renovated and updated stadium can be used for any number of purposes — high school sports, rock concerts, graduations. As long as the city isn't stuck with outrageous maintenance costs, the stadium could become a source of revenue.

Dillon Stadium holds one of the more prominent locations in the city, near Colt Park and adjacent to I-91. A relatively modest investment in the stadium could mean a significant improvement in the neighborhood.

Any investment of public money must be done with caution and wisdom. As long as officials fully vet the proposal and closely monitor the work to completion to ensure that the investment will provide tangible returns, it should be approved.

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