The negative backlash was understandable, expected and typical.
Early last month the city of Hartford announced that they were going to save the state's last AA baseball franchise. We have already lost the New Haven Ravens and the Norwich Navigators. The New Britain Rock Cats were looking out of state for a possible new home. According to a tweet from John Holt of WFSB, the owner, Josh Solomon, was having enough of the perpetual flooding issues in Rock Cats stadium in New Britain. The team was leaving New Britain, they were leaving Connecticut.
Luckily Hartford stepped in with a plan spear headed by Mayor Segarra. He has made an attempt to try and keep the team in the state. The plan is meeting a lot of push back. It should be looked at and prodded, no question it is a lot of money, but the idea is not a bad one. Hartford isn't going to improve by doing absolutely nothing to attract people downtown.
The State and City have both been busy working to improve Hartford, the plans for the future are a relief after what feels like two decades of stagnation and regression. Plans for sporting and entertainment attractions are a much welcome change of pace in the capital city, there were so many similar projects in the past that did not get off the ground..
Just three years ago, November of 2011, Howard Baldwin Sr. proposed a 105 million dollar upgrade to the XL Center complex and the reaction from the public and the state was like he was selling chocolate covered roaches.
Now, fast forward 36 months and the State has already invested 49 million into the XL Center, 35 in upgrades and 14 for purchase of the Church St. garage. Add in to that total that the Capital Region Development Authority may propose a new arena plan, at the latest by the end of the year. I bet people will think the baseball stadium is cheap after hearing the financials of a new downtown arena.
The price tag is very high but the alternative for the city is stagnation, regression, and higher unemployment. I have been a broken record on this point and I will repeat it again here. The Hartford City Council reported in 1997 that the Hartford Whalers brought in 73 million dollars to downtown Hartford, including 900 jobs. Today if an NHL team were awarded to Hartford that figure would be around 110 million according to the US inflation Calendar. I don't want to challenge the anti-stadium/arena pundits but I think that’s called: economic growth.
If you have noticed the state hasn't jumped in on the baseball stadium, its solely a city project so far.. Capital Region Development Authority Executive Director Michael Friemuth has said that the state was never approached by the city regarding the Rock Cats move to Hartford. I hope that means that the state has been busy working on bringing back the NHL. There are still rumors that the league will expand and there are still franchises that may be considering relocation.
Think the NHL doesn't even look at Hartford?
Think again, a longtime employee of the XL Center told me that the NHL visited the XL Center this year to test their "dasher boards" for preparation of the NHL playoffs. Maybe that’s what they are doing but if they are coming from Stamford or Manhattan to test these "dasher boards" why not just test them at Madison Square Garden, or the Nassau Coliseum? Both venues were closer than the XL Center and also they were NHL working arenas.
News about the state's interest in bringing back the NHL is very slow to come. The secrecy behind the attempt is understandable. The public negativity that came out for the Rock Cats announcement was unbelievable. In a nut shell, it all looked like suburbanites casting aspersions onto a city that they only know through the local 6'oclock news.
There are plenty of valid concerns to question the return of baseball and NHL hockey to Hartford. I don't have any problem with people being concerned with the amount the tax payer spends or how the financing is planned. I have those questions as well but throwing the whole idea out is city suicide to me.
The loudest complaint I have heard is that money should go to public safety, road work and education. They are three extremely important concerns for any city U.S.A., they almost go without saying. In fact in every yearly budget and every election these concerns are discussed and brought to the forefront. Hartford hasn't had a legitimate arena discussion in 40 years. I think the greater Hartford sports market has been patient enough, it is time to get our teams back and put forth the effort and take the chance our Hartford predecessors did 40 years ago.
Since the Veterans Memorial Coliseum was built Hartford has been witness to countless incredible performances and historical sports moments that are absolutely priceless to countless people in the state. Public Safety, road work and education don't do much to make fond memories and traditions.
The character 'Red' played by Morgan Freeman said it best in 1994's 'The Shawshank Redemption' when he said; "Get busy living or get busy dying". That’s exactly how I feel about Hartford these days, we are at a serious crossroad.