It was almost six years ago that a major construction delay at the site of Hartford's minor league baseball stadium forced the city to fire Centerplan Construction from that project.
The Hartford Yard Goats had to play their opening season on the road as a result.
The city hired a new developer and Dunkin Donuts Park officially opened its gates in 2017. Centerplan, though, sued for wrongful termination.
In 2019, a jury ruled in the city of Hartford's favor, bringing the incident to an end - or so we thought. It turns out all that is not behind us, as the city had hoped.
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This week, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial.
NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck spoke with Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin about the latest developments.
Mike Hydeck: "So during the original trial, jurors were asked to determine who was at fault for these missed deadlines. But in its appeal, Centerplan argued that late design changes and adjusted contracts should also have been taken into account. The court agreed. What's your response to that?"
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Luke Bronin: "Well, the court didn't necessarily agree with that. What the court decided in the decision that came out, just very recently, was that the judge, in that case, made certain decisions that should have been left to the jury. And that's why the Supreme Court has asked that there be a new trial. Look, we're obviously very disappointed in that decision. As you said, thought and hoped that this would all be behind us. We also disagree strongly with the decision. But the bottom line is this. We feel just as confident going into a second trial as we did going into the first trial. We're confident of the city's position and we're confident that we did the right thing. And you know, I'll tell you, if we had not fired Centerplan when we did, there would be no baseball in Hartford today, there'd be no ballpark. And there certainly wouldn't be any development around the ballpark. There'd just be tens of millions of dollars, you know, a bill being borne by the taxpayers of Hartford with nothing to show for it."
Mike Hydeck: "Prior to the stadium being constructed, we all remember what that area of the city was like. So this ended up changing the city dramatically in a positive way. Look, this is obviously a blow to the city having to prepare for a new trial now. It's time-consuming and could end up being costly. Are you worried about the financial impact of having to try this whole thing all over again?"
Luke Bronin: "Yeah, look, I think it's unfortunate that taxpayers are going to have to pay for the legal costs associated with a new trial. But again, not a single regret about the course of action we took. If we hadn't done that, you'd be stuck with a half-built and at this point, rusting stadium, because the problem wasn't just Centerplan's delays. The problem was also extraordinarily poor workmanship and massive mistakes, that led to their insurance company having to spend nearly $40 million to fix their mistakes. So you know, the city was in a position where there was just no other responsible place. And today, we've got a ballpark that is, has been named the best minor league ballpark in the country multiple years in a row, that sets attendance records in the league. And if you go by there now you can see the first phase of that residential development going up around it. It's a real transformation of that whole area, which was a sea of surface parking lots that divided our neighborhoods. It's now a part of the city's transformation of momentum. So we'll go through another trial. As I said, we're confident in our position. Wish we didn't have to do it. But there's no question in my mind that we did the right thing when we did."
Mike Hydeck: "So the first phase of that North Crossing development across the street from the stadium is just about done. Is there a chance this trial could delay any of that or the rest of that project? Are you meeting with the developer, which is RMS, to discuss things?"
Luke Bronin: "We don't believe so. I mean, certainly nothing on that phase. That phase is about, to have a ribbon-cutting, and you have folks moving in there soon. And the Supreme Court chose not to rule on the plaintiff's attempt to delay that development. So we feel confident that that will continue to move forward. And again, it's critical to the city that it does. I mean, that really is part of a broader transformation for that part of the downtown and the intersection of downtown and the north end. And you know, we're full steam ahead there."
Mike Hydeck: "Now did Centerplan in their initial agreement also have a contract to redevelop the area surrounding the stadium, and that was also moved to another contractor?"
Luke Bronin: "That's right."