Batting Around: Further delays in Hartford

After a series of setbacks, Dunkin' Donuts Park may not open in 2016

Dunkin' Donuts Park, the new downtown home of the Hartford Yard Goats, is still not ready for occupancy. (Hartford Yard Goats)

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com | June 10, 2016 10:00 AM

As the season approaches its halfway point, the Hartford Yard Goats have yet to play a ballgame in Hartford.

The Yard Goats -- Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies -- are still waiting for the construction of Dunkin' Donuts Park to be completed. It now remains an open question whether the facility will open during this season at all. This year was supposed to be the Yard Goats' first campaign in Hartford after they spent the previous 33 in nearby New Britain, where they were known as the Rock Cats. The Yard Goats have played all of their home schedule thus far at their opposing teams' ballparks or Norwich's Dodd Stadium (home of the Class A Short Season Connecticut Tigers).

Dunkin' Donuts Park has been plagued by funding-related controversy throughout the construction process, with the city of Hartford and team ownership facing off against developers DoNo Hartford LLC and Centerplan.

Tensions first became public in January, when it was announced that the ballpark wouldn't be ready in time for Opening Day. As reported in this column, this delay was due to Dunkin' Donuts being some $10 million over budget. The developers alleged this was because design changes mandated by Hartford's Stadium Authority (representing the city) made cost overruns inevitable. The city, as well as Yard Goats ownership, maintained that the budget overages hadn't been communicated and that they'd been misled throughout the process.

Hartford mayor Luke Bronin (who inherited this sticky situation from his predecessor, Pedro Segarra) then oversaw a compromise agreement that stipulated a May 17 "substantial completion date" in advance of a May 31 Opening Day. After the May 17 deadline came and went, Bronin told the Hartford Courant, "We'd like to get baseball played in there as soon as possible. We also need to hold our partners accountable, and we need to make sure we're protecting the city's interests."

Bronin soon delivered on this assertion. He announced on May 27 that Hartford was calling the $47 million bond that provided for the city's share of the ballpark funding, maintaining that the developers had failed to meet the requirements of previously agreed-upon stipulations. Then, during a June 6 press conference, Bronin announced that the Hartford Stadium Authority had terminated its contract with the developers. Arch Insurance, described by the Courant as "the company guaranteeing the stadium's completion," will now oversee the construction process. Arch is currently researching the situation. According to Bloomberg.com, if Arch "sides with the city, the insurer will cover as much as $47 million to complete the ballpark."

Batting Around

When construction will begin again remains unclear, but chances for a 2016 opening grow slimmer by the day. On Wednesday, the Eastern League announced the latest changes to the Yard Goats' schedule. The team will play its June 21-23 series against Richmond at Manchester's Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats), while the scheduled June 24-26 series versus Erie will be played at Dodd Stadium. Additional changes were announced Friday, as home games scheduled for July 4 through the 10th will now be played at Binghamton's NYSEG Stadium. 

In the meantime, what can the Yard Goats do but keep on tweeting?

Project Jackson projections

Project Jackson -- a proposed "live, work and play" riverfront development project in North Augusta, Georgia -- was first announced in 2012. Among the key components of the project is a new stadium for the South Atlantic League's Augusta GreenJackets, who currently operate out of 20-year-old Lake Olmstead Stadium (located in Augusta proper).

Project Jackson construction -- ballpark-related or otherwise -- has yet to begin. Nonetheless, the Augusta Chronicle reports that "North Augusta is close to finalizing a master development agreement, so a July Fourth [2017] opening for the baseball stadium isn't out of the realm of possibility yet."

If, however improbably, the new GreenJackets ballpark does open next July 4, it would be the 2017 season's lone new Minor League ballpark (unless, of course, Hartford's Dunkin' Donuts Park doesn't make its debut until then).

Batavia dodges a bullet

The New York-Penn League's Batavia Muckdogs have long struggled at the gate, have long been for sale and have long been the subject of relocation rumors. Last month, Ballpark Digest reported that an investment group had signed a contract to purchase the Muckdogs and relocate them to Waldorf, Maryland, for the 2017 season. Under this plan, the team would play at Regency Furniture Stadium, which currently hosts the independent league Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

This will not come to pass. As the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported, this was because territorial approvals were necessary from both the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles as well as the Eastern and Carolina leagues. Not all of the necessary approvals were received, and thus the Muckdogs will remain in Batavia.

Since 2008, the Muckdogs have been operated by the Rochester Red Wings. The Red Wings, who assume all expenses and receive all revenue, obtain a five-percent ownership stake in the Muckdogs after every season in which they operate the community-owned club.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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