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A Stadium Built By a Public-Private Partnership Is A Dumb Deal for Hartford

 

The public never wins in a public-private partnership. So when Mayor Pedro Segarra recasts his $60 million stadium bonding project as a public-private partnership, know it is the same stinking, rotten theft of public dollars.

Make no mistake: Mayor Segarra is charging full steam ahead on this pipe dream to build a ballpark in downtown Hartford. And he is trying to do so without any significant public input.

If the ends are the means are the ends in local governance, we are going to end up with a stadium built with a cloaking device.

This is why it is more important than ever that on July 21, 2014, we protest. Join us at 4 p.m. at the proposed stadium site on 1212 Main Street, Hartford, to march to City Hall and demand an end to this folly.

We must register our distrust for Segarra’s administration and its tactics in trying to shove this stadium down our throats. And, we must tell Segarra and his obedient Council members that we do not want this stadium.

In my years as an activist, in all the canvassing I have done, I have never encountered the near unanimous opposition I have seen while talking to people about this stadium.

Yet Mayor Segarra’s July 11, 2014 letter to Court of Common Council President Shawn Wooden writes “In view of our decision to include the creation of a ballpark in the larger development plan for Downtown North,” we must ask who the “our” he refers to is?

It is not the people in the North End, who have said during years of meetings on the redevelopment of Downtown North that they want a supermarket. For two years, Segarra and his untrustworthy economic development director Thomas Deller met with both the Rock Cats ownership and the North End residents.

Segarra and Deller never told the North End residents about the stadium plan, so they came up with a plan on their own, it included a grocery store and mixed use development. Now, Segarra pretends that people in the North End want a stadium. They don’t, at least from my experience canvassing.

Stadiums do not help neighborhoods. This stadium will not help the North End. If stadiums did help neighborhoods, the residents at 161st and River Avenue in the Bronx would be enjoying economic uplift after the Yankees built a $2 billion shrine to capitalism and baseball.

Yet Jerome Avenue has not gentrified. There aren’t hundreds of full time jobs in the neghborhood that have magically appeared because of the new Yankee Stadium. Jerome and 161st and River Ave are still poor, with half of its population in Morris Heights in the Bronx living below the poverty line.

But facts and figures be damned. Segarra wants his baseball stadium, so he can argue he needs to be re-elected to finish his project. It’s a sham, and he lacks the consent of the governed to build this stadium. So he will shut the governed out of the process.

When Segarra withdrew his resolution seeking a $60 million bond deal, via the July 11 letter to Wooden, he indicated the City still seeks to pursue the resolution to purchase the 1.7 acres from Rensselear Graduate Center.

Wooden is conflicted out of dealing with the 1.7 acre purchase, so we must ask why Segarra would write Wooden a letter telling him about the plans? Shouldn’t Wooden have appointed another council member to act as president in his place for matters on the 1.7 acres?

This is one of the many questions this stadium deal presents, that has not been answered satisfactorily. And that if Segarra has his way, will not be answered. Segarra moves with manufactured haste here. While it seems designed to insure the stadium is built for April 2016, it also guarantees a lack of public input.

The massive outcry over the $60 million bond fraud pushed Segarra and company into back-up plan A – a public private partnership. Assume there is back-up plan B and C that they will spring on us, to try to demoralize and confuse the opposition again.

At the start of July, the City issued an RFP asking for bids to build the stadium. According to Segarra, the “partnership will create a mixed use development in Downtown North to include housing, retail and commercial space, including a supermarket, open space, parking and a minor league baseball facility.”

Who can create such a massive plan in under 30 days? Segarra will then open these bids on August 1, present them to Council on August 11, and select a contractor by August 18. This short timeline lends itself to manipulation and corruption. When can we see the bids and examine them?

After the lying and deceit and concealing of information from the public view, you would think Segarra and cronies would be appropriately chastised and bent more towards transparency. Not a chance. We will only get piecemeal information unless we demand it all.

This schedule shows the public will not have an opportunity to comment on the stadium as a public-private partnership. That is why we must seize the opportunity to comment at the July 21, 2014 hearing, and tell the City we don’t want a stadium.

No matter what Segarra says, his office is dipping into the public fisc to create this stadium. The purchase of the 1.7 acres will be done with public monies. Will the developer repay the City? Where will this money for the 1.7 acres come from?

The details of this public-private partnership are so sketchy and vague that we must be skeptical.

Segarra’s game plan is pretty clear: attract what appears to be a percentage of the stadium construction costs in private capital, create a public-private corporation, let the public side of it bond the stadium monies and bear the risk, and the private portion wins out.

This has been demonstrated in studies on the construction of health-care infrastructure or water infrastructure. Entertainment infrastructure is not any better.

Another study found no one solid definition of public-private partnerships. “Many public and private officials tout public-private partnerships for any number of activities, when in truth the relationship is contractual, a franchise, or the load shedding of some previously public service to a private or nonprofit entity,” according to an article in State and Local Government Review, volume 45.

Segarra’s sales pitch of the stadium project as a public-private partnership is a cynical manipulation of an ill-defined term, designed to mislead. Segarra’s focus on the stadium at all represents a cruel displacement of priorities in a City with a 38 percent poverty rate.

I challenge anyone out in the reading audience to give me an example of an active, successful public-private partnership that has built a minor league baseball stadium, anywhere in America. They can’t, because it hasn’t happened.

Thus, we should continue headstrong with our opposition to this project. There is no private venture capital angel company that will bear 100 percent of the costs of a new stadium. Not even the wealthy team owners will do it. So we must object, and stop this bad idea.

See you all on July 21, 2014.

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