Should the Rock Cats Move to Hartford?

Jun 4, 2014

Rumors have gained momentum, fueled by anonymous comments coming from Hartford City Hall.

Hartford city officials held a news conference on Wednesday to discuss what Mayor Pedro Segarra called a "major sports announcement." A deal is in place to move the New Britain Rock Cats minor league baseball team to Hartford.

City Councilman Ken Kennedy told NBC Connecticut that the council was briefed on the plan Tuesday night. The deal includes a 25-year lease if the city builds a 9,000-seat stadium for the Rock Cats. The team's current home at New Britain Stadium seats 6,146.

The location is a plot of land just north of I-84 and the Heaven skate park, at 1214 Main Street. It's part of an area that has received a lot of master planning in recent years, known as Downtown North. In the image below, potential development areas are identifed, with city-owned parcels shaded in red, and property owned by others shaded in light green.

Hartford North Park development parcels, broken down by various factors.
Credit City of Hartford

It's not yet clear how a stadium plan might dovetail, if at all, with those plans, or with a refurbished I-84 viaduct, or a new busway line directly connecting Hartford and New Britain.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart is taking a firm stance on social media:

Stewart told reporters on Monday that Rock Cats General Manager Tim Restall told her there was no plan to move. Since then, Restall clarified his words in an email to The Hartford Courant, saying he merely told Stewart that he knew nothing of the plans. 

As rumors have continued to gain momentum over the last day or so, fueled by anonymous comments coming from Hartford City Hall, the hashtag #keepthecats sprouted up on social media, along with plenty of other related discussion about the team's future.

The news raises some interesting questions. What's contributing to the Rock Cats' desire to move? Should they? If they move, is it something Hartford taxpayers should fund with a new stadium? 

Ralph Nader, a political activist and former presidential candidate, appeared on WNPR's Where We Live on Wednesday and addressed whether taxpayers should fund this kind of project. "Tax dollars should only be used for serious public purposes," he said. "They should not be used for entertainment. They should not be used for casinos, or stadiums, or ballparks. Let these corporate capitalists in professional sports behave like capitalists -- put their own money in; risk their own money."

Nader said taking a team from New Britain and pulling it into Hartford, "a poor city," is not the best use of whatever money might be available. Listen below for more:

The Hartford Business Journal reported on the Rock Cats coming under new ownership in 2012, when Boston-based Joshua Solomon and his two siblings bought the team. From the article:

There are many parallels between real estate investing and owning a minor league baseball team.

First, says Solomon, is customer service. "Whether it's a fan who comes to one of your baseball games or a resident who lives in one of your apartments, they need to feel well taken care of — and that they are getting value for their investment," he said. "Customer service is everything and doing the little things to make people feel comfortable and welcome."

Segarra has said he thinks he has enough support on the Hartford City Council to get a stadium deal to pass. Again, speaking anonymously, council members told the Courant that Segarra has at least five votes required to approve a land purchase. No agreement has yet been signed.