HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A new baseball stadium in Hartford, the first major development in decades for the city's depressed north end, has been plagued by cost overruns, theft of building materials and construction delays.
Now, city officials say there is no way the $55 million, 9,000-seat minor league ballpark can be ready for opening day in April.
The Eastern League on Tuesday revamped its schedule to send the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats on the road for at least their first 17 games while city officials and developers work to shore up a project aimed at attracting fans from the wealthy suburbs that surround Connecticut's hard-luck capital city.
I. Charles Mathews, a former deputy mayor who runs the Hartford Stadium Authority, said it's too important a project not to fix.
"For 25 years, we've been trying to get development in Hartford north of Interstate 84, which divides the city," Matthews said. "The ballpark presents the first opportunity. I see it as our Bloomingdales, the anchor that will bring in smaller businesses."
Matthews said Mayor Luke Bronin will announce a plan within the next two days that would allow the team to play in the city "sometime in 2016."
The team, an affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, announced in June 2014 that it would move to Hartford from nearby New Britain, where they were known as the Rock Cats.
Hartford broke ground on the stadium last February, promising it would be ready in 14 months. The team was supposed to open at home on April 7.
The first problems cropped up a few months after work began, when police reported numerous thefts of construction material from the site.
The stadium is being financed through city bonding and intended as the anchor for private development that includes housing, stores and restaurants.
The first public indications of major cost overruns came in October when the city agreed to eliminate a grandstand roof from the stadium plan. That was supposed to save $4 million and get the project back on schedule.
Matthews said the city was not aware of the full extent of the problems with the stadium's construction until December, when the authority was informed by Centerplan Construction that the project would need another $10 million and was weeks behind schedule.
Robert Landino, CEO of Centerplan and a former state lawmaker, said the city failed to give the company complete control of the design and they were unable to make cost-saving changes.
"It kind of cut us off at the legs in terms of trying to bring the project back to budget," he said.
Josh Solomon, the team's owner, did not return a phone call seeking comment. He told the Hartford Courant the developer had been promising for a year that it would bring the project in on time and on budget.
"I see incompetence," Solomon told the newspaper. "I see dishonesty. I see a lack of credibility."
Landino said the stadium will be done in time to play baseball this season, and the company will face stiff fines if it doesn't finish work by the new completion date. But he also acknowledged it will cost taxpayers more money.
"But beyond that, what we create will generate revenue that will offset those costs," he said.
The team will open in Richmond and remain on the road through at least May 8, the league said. Further changes to the schedule are possible, but Eastern League President Joseph McEacharn said that taking the team permanently to another city is not an option.
"Our commitment to Hartford is not wavering at all," he said. "There are frustrations and challenges we have to overcome."
This story has been corrected to show the name of the city from which the team moved is New Britain not Britain.