Fasano Slams Plan to Issue Bonds To Help Build Hartford Stadium [Courant]

April 30, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant
HARTFORD — The state may still finance part of Hartford’s $56 million baseball stadium, though not in the way previously considered.

The latest plan would send an undetermined amount of money to Hartford from bonds issued by the state and overseen by Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public investment arm.

Under an earlier plan, Hartford sought to get a portion of the state’s admissions tax — about $426,000 annually — to help pay for its new minor league ballpark.

The New Britain Rock Cats, soon to be the Hartford Yard Goats, must charge the 10 percent tax under state law, which imposes that tax on most entertainment and recreation venues. A change in state law would have sent that money back to Hartford.

The admissions tax plan came under fire in April from Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven, among others.

Lawmakers are now weighing a proposal that would let the state issue general obligation bonds backed by tax revenue from Hartford’s Downtown North development — a plan that also includes housing, retail, parking and a brewery. The money would come from “a portion of the incremental state sales and hotel tax” generated at the site, according to a report by the state’s Office of Fiscal Analysis.

The latest plan to give money to Hartford is part of the overall tax plan adopted Thursday by the legislature’s finance committee — with Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, as co-chairman. Fonfara sponsored the original bill to send the entertainment tax money back to Hartford.

The committee’s tax plan, which will now become part of closed-door negotiations to hammer out a state budget, does not say how much Hartford would receive.

Fonfara said Thursday that details have not been worked out.

He said he backed away from the admissions tax proposal after pushback from critics. He noted that under the new plan, revenue from the stadium would not be used to back the general obligation bonds.

Asked if the city would use any of the borrowed money to pay down its debt service on the ballpark, Fonfara said that would have to be decided by Hartford officials and the developers.

“This is a concept that is now before the legislature,” he said. “The city can now begin conversations with the state on how something like this could work.

“I’m hopeful this would work, but that’s yet to be determined. It may end up that we identify, over the next month, another approach. I’m not wedded to any one thing.

“I do believe that this isn’t just an initiative that has the opportunity to benefit the city of Hartford and the region, but also the state as a whole. The state puts a lot of money into Hartford. I think it’s a legitimate initiative to have the state involved in.”

Fasano had challenged Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to keep what Fasano said was a campaign promise not to help fund the stadium project. Fasano called the ticket tax another way of funneling money to the ballpark. Malloy had said in June that he was not involved in the planning, development or financing of the stadium. Through a spokesman, Malloy distanced himself from Fonfara’s earlier plan.

Fasano on Thursday called the new financing plan “outrageous.”

“Once it’s in this bill, there will be no further action by the legislature. We’re not going to give you a financial analysis, we’re not going to tell you whether this is going to cost the state money or not — we’re just going to stick it in the finance package and then you’re never going to see it, except maybe on your tax bills,” Fasano said. “This, again, is just really, really bad policy. It’s fast and loose.

“The depths that these people are going to have the taxpayers pay for this stadium is unbelievable.”

Though the bonds would be backed in part by the hotel tax, a hotel is not included in the Downtown North development plan.

Robert Landino, chief executive officer of Centerplan, said Thursday that the project’s developers had commissioned a land-use study that gauged the demand for hospitality, office space, retail, residential rentals, and for-sale residential development, among other things. He said there are currently no plans to build a hotel.

“To the extent we get hospitality inquiries, we want to understand the strength of the market, what is likely to be successful or not successful,” Landino said. “We’re considering everything, but there’s no discussion of a hotel at the present time.”
The city will pay about $4.26 million a year in debt service for the stadium for 26 years, beginning in 2017.
Mayor Pedro Segarra’s office declined to comment Thursday.