Rock Cats Are Moving to Hartford: Mayor Segarra

The Rock Cats minor league baseball team has been playing at their stadium in New Britain since 1996, but Hartford city officials say the Rock Cats are moving to Hartford.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and the city council held a news conference on the front steps of City Hall on Wednesday to announce that the city will build a new 220,000 square foot, 10,000-seat stadium at 1214 Main Street by April 1, 2016.

The area where the stadium would go has not been developed for a long time, said Segarra, who called this an economic opportunity the city could not pass up.

He said this would expand the central business district and reconnect with North Hartford, which needs an infusion of jobs.

Segarra said the "team transfer" from New Britain was to prevent the team from leaving the state of Connecticut.

"Today I am very proud that we are bringing professional baseball back to the city of Hartford and that baseball is coming back to the capital city," Segarra said.

Talks started about a year and a half ago, when Hartford officials became aware that the team was looking for another venue, Segarra said.

Segarra called the site a "great location," close to Interstates 84 and 91.

The mayor was asked about traffic congestion during the news conference and he did not expect there to be a problem.

The city is estimating that the stadium would bring around 2,500 cars, with an average of 3.3 people apiece, and there is sufficient parking in the area, so no additional parking would be necessary.

He also said city officials have spoken with venues about scheduling events.

The announcement about the Hartford stadium came after 17 months of analysis, according to the mayor.

The funding would come from the city, not the state, and the maximum bond amount would be $60 million, according to Segarra.

"We're committed to building this stadium with our local resources. That means the resources of the city of Hartford," Segarra said.

The $60 million price tag would not include cost of land acquisition. The city owns most of the land required for the deal, but there would be an extra cost of $1.7 million for a parcel, Segarra said during the news conference.

He mentioned the possibility of tax incremental financing and a some special fees with the parking.

The city expects to make $2 million in annual tax revenue, as well as $8 million annually for hotels, food and beverages.

Segarra expects 900 jobs to be created during the construction phase, and 600 new full-time permanent jobs.

Hartford has identified at least two developers capable of doing this work, according to Segarra.

The AA team, an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, is expected to sign a 25-year lease if the city of Hartford agrees to build a baseball stadium, Hartford Councilman Ken Kennedy said on Tuesday.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart denied a report on Monday that the Rock Cats are in talks to move the Minor League Baseball team to Hartford.

"We have a very open and honest relationship," Stewart said. "The city of New Britain really goes above and beyond to accommodate the Rock Cats. They're part of our city. We love them."

New Britain's mayor did not respond to NBC Connecticut's follow-up requests for comment on Tuesday night, but has said she's confident the team will stay in her city.

She tweeted the following Wednesday afternoon:

U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty released a statement about the plan after the news conference.

“For twenty years, families have come to New Britain Stadium to watch the Rock Cats. We are proud of our team and what it brings to our community. The Rock Cats should stay at home in New Britain,” Esty said.

"We've had a great relationship with the city of New Britain. We have been there for 20 years. We've satisfied all obligations of the lease, and in the lease coming up at the end of 2015, we explored our opportunities and the ability to bring baseball to the capital city was just a tremendous opportunity that we could not pass on the ability to provide our fans with a state of the art facility," Josh Solomon, owner of the New Britain Rock Cats, said. 

Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-5) released a statement Wednesday on the announcement advocating for the Rock Cats to stay in New Britain.

"For twenty years, families have come to New Britain Stadium to watch the Rock Cats. We are proud of our team and what it brings to our community. The Rock Cats should stay at home in New Britain," she said.

Mayor Segarra, the city's development director and other officials briefed the City Council on the plan on Tuesday.

The Rock Cats approached the city about the idea due to concerns about revenue, otherwise planning to move out of Connecticut, Kennedy said. The City Council and zoning officials would have to approve the stadium first.

"I understand there will be, initially, some people that will be angry, but again this wasn't a Hartford driven project," said Kennedy.

Hartford City Council Minority Leader Larry Deutsch said before a briefing with the mayor Tuesday that he has many concerns about moving the Rock Cats to Hartford, including a possible negative impact to the surrounding neighborhoods, cost, facility maintenance and unused space in the off-season as opposed to bringing in year-round businesses.

"We would have real reservations about locating a sports facility like that in a downtown area," he said.

Rock Cats General Manager Tim Restall told NBC Connecticut on Tuesday that reports of a move to Hartford were a surprise to him and he did not return further requests for comment.

Hartford's City Council, which must approve any stadium deal, is expected to take up the issue very soon.

Segarra said the city's planning and development services departments have been working on this, a lot of the red tape once needed has been eliminated and Development Services is compiling a checklist of approvals needed.

"We're very confident and I have the assurances of our attorneys and Development Services that we can meet that schedule," Segarra said.

Segarra said he hopes to have a ceremony celebrating the new stadium on April 7, 2016.

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