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People 2, Rock Cats 0

Disclosure: I am an active participant in the Hartford Coalition to Stop the Stadium.

Since the Rock Cats business is all about sports, let’s keep score. My favorite sign from the march and rally by the Hartford Coalition to Stop the Stadium this past Monday, July 21, 2014 was simple: People 1, Rock Cats 0. The People’s first point was killing the $60 million bond proposal.

When Council members Raul DeJesus and David McDonald saw the “People 1, Rock Cats 0” sign by Hartford artist Constanza Segovia at the public hearing July 21, they both smiled. McDonald photographed it from his perch at the Court of Common Council table. The People gain momentum and allies, and scored again.

People 2, Rock Cats 0. This will end as a rout by the People. All signs point to a victory for the People. I predict a final score of People 5, Rock Cats 1.

The breadth and depth of coverage from the People’s second point, the march surveyed the solid ground upon which stadium opposition stands. All four Connecticut television stations, the Courant, the New Britain Herald, WNPR and Real Hartford overshadowed Mayor Pedro Segarra’s paltry op-ed in Sunday’s Courant and last week’s story about the Hooker brewery maybe wanting to be part of the development.

The Coalition to Stop the Stadium netted 10 minutes of airtime on four news shows, plus two minutes on WNPR. Stadium proponents earned maybe 1 minute of all that time. Stadium opponents outnumbered proponents 15 to one at the hearing.

The best TV coverage from Fox-CT and WTNH reported the facts and explored the nuance of the public hearing: city council limited comment to Mayor Segarra’s resolution asking for $1.8 million to purchase 2.08 acres of land to add to the City’s land for the stadium.

Not only does Segarra read the news, and pay staff to track it, the developers and capitalists who might invest in this stadium buffonery also follow current events. They know Rock Cats’ owner Josh Solomon is a snake.  Who wants to do business with him, when he, an experienced real estate speculator, won’t put his own money up for this stadium?

The match is turning against Segarra’s boondoggle. It does not help when a respected sports columnist like Jeff Jacobs of the Courant has, after much soul searching, determined that the best one word to describe Segarra’s handling of this mess is: nitwit. Read Jacobs’ column.

He has no confidence in Segarra’s ability to lead this development project. But media only creates public perception, and power has little use for how constituents perceive reality, which explains Segarra’s shift to a public-private partnership. Power operates on money.

If Jacobs from the outside doubts Segarra, how confident are investors? One policy wag told me in the past 20 years, no building has been built in Hartford greater than one story (that is not a home) without public funds. I cannot think of one. The stadium will need public monies. Investors need to trust their public partners. Segarra inspires little confidence.

Other policy wonks with significant experience in city management and land use transactions doubt the viability of a stadium without public funds.

Segarra’s RFP calls for a mixed-use development of a large plot of land to include a grocery store, housing and a ballpark. To absorb the costs of a $60 million stadium, a privately funded developer must realize a huge profit margin

The proposed $500,000 annual rent, the naming rights and all that, doesn’t add up to a hill of beans. That’s why Josh Solomon sought public funds. He knows private capital will not finance a stadium without a public crutch. This kind of entertainment infrastructure bleeds money.

If there was a profit margin of even $30 million to be realized on developing the land north of I-84 in Hartford, some capitalist would have done it by now. So then who in the public-private partnership builds the stadium? The public.

We cannot accept a deal that says the developer builds the stadium for $45 million, and the City chips in $45 million to build the grocery store and the housing, and then turns it over the private developers, and the developer gives the public the stadium to manage. The same bad deal in different clothing.

While we would have a grocery store and housing, we still have $45 million in debt. We could have had a grocery story for far less, and can do housing cheaper.

Hartford plays with Detroit-style bankruptcy fire when it takes out that kind of debt. We must be wary of any more tricks Segarra will try. Cheating won’t help the Rock Cats here.

Time is on the People’s side. The People can run out the clock because the Rock Cats have a deadline for a new 9,000 seat stadium by April 2016. Construction has to start before January 2015. The Birmingham Barons in Alabama started construction on the $64 million, 8,500 seat Regions Field in February 2012 for opening day in April 2013.

In Alabama, construction can occur during winter months. Not so in Connecticut. A 14-month schedule down south is 16 months up north.  Segarra needs a deal in place, cash in hand, shovel ready, by December 1, 2014. It won’t happen.

If Common Council votes to bond anything more than $2 million for the stadium, of course, the Rock Cats notch their first score. People 2, Rock Cats 1. But the People will answer with one of two possible scoring attempts.

City Treasurer Adam Cloud faces re-election with a few stains from the Earl O’Garro mess. Why would he risk further voter wrath by sending a deeply unpopular project to bond? Cloud could end it: People 3, Rock Cats 1, game over.

If he doesn’t, the People can force a referendum on the bond issue. Again, People 3, Rock Cats 1. The verification of 1,500 signatures acts as injunctive relief, preventing the City from devoting additional resources to the project until a vote is held.

Suppose Council approves a bonding plan by August 18 – which is aggressive – the People have 30 days to force a referendum. The People can collect their signatures, and then hold them until September 5 to turn them in, well before their deadline. Why?

The Secretary of the State’s website says September 4 is the last day a question can be placed on the ballot for November 4, 2014. A referendum on the Stadium could not happen until November 18, at the earliest. The People look almost unbeatable.

The 60-day injunctive period would grind to a halt the City’s permitting efforts. Planning and Zoning Approval will not be easy, since the stadium does not appear consistent with One City, One Plan.

Then the City needs environmental permits from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. If the land is dirty, opponents may have standing under Connecticut General Statutes Section 22a-16 to challenge permits in court. Litigation acts as a further stopper.

Then the Rock Cats need traffic permits from the state Department of Transportation to do anything in the I-84 and I-91 wheelhouse. Appeals under the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act would create headaches for the Rock Cats side. Again, this favors the People.

All of this cannot be wound up even by January 1, 2015 to break ground with some stupid ceremonial golden shovel. This is why I, and many others, are thinking Mayor Segarra and his Rock Cats will lose. But the People cannot let up the pressure.

My prediction: People 5, Rock Cats 1.  The Rock Cats and the Solomons then crawl back to New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart to sign the guaranteed lease extension for two more years in New Britain. The Solomons sell the team to an owner happy with a 20-year-old stadium in New Britain.

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