Interesting how many of the politicians in this picture are now gone, was the Stadium an omen?
With that being said, we are now stuck with it , and IT HAS TO WORK. Even though Hartford residents and contractors may not be working on the project as promised, the overall project has to work. If for no other reason than the $4.5million annual debt service payments (probably higher depending how the project is bailed out) could bankrupt our city if the project isn't salvaged.
I am pretty sure Mayor Bronin realized that City Hall was a mess when he ran for office. He probably knew the turn around wasn't going to be fast or easy, but I seriously doubt that he ever thought that the first week, and more, of his term would be spent trying to save a stadium that he wasn't a big supporter of in the first place.
I think the old saying is "you play the hand you are dealt", and Bronin was dealt a stinker of a hand.
The circular firing squad are all taking shots at each other as to who is to blame, and in the meantime no solutions are readily available. I. Charles Matthews, Chairman of the ineffective Stadium Oversight Authority says it is Centerplan, the developer. Centerplan says it is the City and the Oversight Authority, and no one is coming up with fixes.
I am sure when all the facts are on the table there will be plenty of exposure all around. The Stadium Authority, Centerplan as well as the City probably all have been complicit in this mess. I think the fact that Centerplan was willing to kick up $1.7 million almost immediately tells us where the blame begins.
Centerplan does not have a great track record of competence when it comes to completing jobs on budget and on time. You can read more about Centerplan's dismal track record in Jon Lender's article here http://www.courant.com/politics/hc-lender-slow-pay-for-subs-1115-20151114-column.html. After reading that article, it is probably a good thing they have broke their promise to hire Hartford contractors, otherwise they would be bankrupting many of them also.
I am still asking myself how this project got so far out of hand. Is there no one that knew how to make construction "punch lists " and spread sheets to track the work, contracts assigned , and invoices for the project? Did no one realize that the expenses were mounting faster than the budget allowed or anticipated. Isn't that why a "professional" was hired to oversee construction. Were the monthly meetings of the Stadium Oversight Authority purely for fluff purposes and cheer leading practice?
Where was the Chief Operating Officer (soon to be ex COO) Darryl Hill. Wasn't that part of his function as both COO and a member of the oversight Board? What construction do any of the Board members have to manage such a project? What experience do any of the City Staff have managing such a large project.? Clearly not enough. Michael Looney ( son of Senator Martin Looney, President Pro tempore of the Connecticut Senate) is apparently Executive Director of the Stadium Authority. Looney seems pretty good at sending out emails and meeting minutes, but not so good at monitoring construction costs.
In a media account regarding the creation of the Stadium Authority, a City Official was quoted as saying " that they could not yet give an estimate of the total savings to the city, but that the savings would be in the millions" How is that working out for you Pedro. Did they say savings or cost overruns?. In all actuality the Authority was "allegedly concocted as a mechanism for funding, it was more likely an avenue to avoid a referendum and a vote from the people who most likely may have not supported the Stadium deal in the first place. All water over the dam at this point, the Stadium has to work..
Was the Stadium Oversight Authority not asking the right questions or were they afraid to actually act like managers entrusted with over $56 million dollars of public money? Or was it maybe because the Stadium Authority Chairman's son worked as a high level official for the City in Development Services. Brian Matthew's is the son of I. Charles Matthews. It is probably tough to ask tough questions when your son might be the one responsible to answer.
And who knows what else the City is responsible for. The way this project has been slammed through, anything is possible. Did they under estimate just about every financial projection? Dis they make change orders without paying attention to the escalating costs.
If, or more likely when, this all lands in the lap of a Superior Court Judge, the facts will come out and blame, or termed liability when it comes to legal judgements, will be determined and the checkbooks will be forced to come out. Everyone will be paying, and definitely no one will benefit ( except maybe the Solomon Brothers who I think were smart enough to protect themselves legally and contractually.
Although Mayor Bronin has said he is opposed to spending "another dime" of public money on the deal, I think the reality is, we will Whether that decision is made by Mayor Bronin or a Superior Court Judge is yet to be determined. The latter probably being the more costly and damaging route for the City taxpayers. Any legal battle is long and protracted. Nothing winds through the Courts quickly and the whole time the meter is running on attorney feed, interest costs and other related costs. In the meantime, the Stadium would be producing nothing except at least $4.million in interest costs for 25 years.
Mayor Bronin needs to meet the first test of his Office and that is making this deal work with the least amount of damage or impact to Hartford's taxpayers and its budget. I believe he has already started closed door negotiations to seek a resolution. I think the next one is scheduled for Monday night. Lets figure who is responsible for what where the exposure initially lies and who is going to do what and what will it cost. If Hartford's exposure is $2 million, $3million, $5 million who knows. But failure is potentially going to be much more expensive in the long run, with quite possibly nothing to show except rusting steel and some concrete footings in the ground.
With that being said, any additional dollars allotted is going to put Mayor Bronin in a tough spot, and I think he needs to do every thing possible to assure the people of Hartford that they are being protected. In my opinion, the removal and replacement of all members of the Stadium Authority would be the first step. They have already shown that they are asleep at the switch to let the situation get to this drastic point. They have embarrassed the City and the only way to restore confidence is their replacement.. The Executive Director of the Stadium Authority needs to be replaced by someone with construction experience and someone that knows how to manage a budget.
Someone that is selected to lead the Authority by a hiring process based on merit and knowledge of the Construction industry, not by who you are related to politically. Senator Looney's support may have been helpful early on if the State was ever going to buy into the project, but I think any State involvement or support is a near impossibility now, even Senator Looney could not be helpful at this point, even if we hired his entire family.
At an event Thursday night I spoke with Hartford's former Probate Judge Robert Killian. In Judge Killian's private practice he apparently has extensive experience in Construction Conflict mediation. He showed me some notes he had produced with a plan to put the project back on track, where the money would come from and who would do what. As someone unfamiliar with multi million dollar projects, it seemed to make sense to me, and was definitely a good starting point .
I think Judge Killian would be a good start for a member of a revamped Stadium Authority, his respect and love for the best interest of Hartford are beyond reproach( We may have very easily had another term of Mayor Segarra if it wasn't)My understanding is a more formal outline of Killian's ideas has been submitted to Mayor Bronin and attorney's for Centerplan
A second name that should be considered is Republican Ted Cannon. Cannon showed during his recent run for mayor that he understands Municipal finance and the issues facing Hartford. I think the financial oversight aspect of the Stadium Authority can not be overlooked, especially after recent events. I know Hartford is a Democratic City and Republican's are almost extinct in our City but we need to take competent help wherever we can find it, I think Cannon would be a good start.
A new oversight board should also include an opponent of the project. Many of the opponents were well versed in the finances and other issue, Maybe if someone had actually listened to them in the beginning instead of appointing a group of political cheerleaders, things might be different. AN opponent does not have to be a road block, but just might actually be asking valuable questions and providing a different, realistic, view of things.
As much as I would like to see any additional City money spent going into necessities like Police hiring, our parks, Senior Housing or even a tax break to encourage REAL economic growth,( no more stadiums... please) I fully realize the implications of not getting the Stadium project back on track quickly. Luke is stuck between a rock and a hard place. We need to see this matter resolved and resolved promptly. Mayor Bronin has to take a strong stand to convince the voters he is looking out for their best interests, not just spending money we should not have to be spending if things were done right from the beginning.