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Dodd Stadium: The house Carberry got built

Lawyer used local government knowledge to bring Minors to Norwich
October 16, 2015

At Dodd Stadium, home of the Connecticut Tigers, fans pass through the gates and onto the Glenn Carberry Concourse. It's a fitting honor, since the ballpark wouldn't have been built without him.

Though Carberry spearheaded the effort to build a stadium in Norwich, he wasn't a typical baseball business insider. He was not a member of a relocating team's ownership group or an elected official advocating for Minor League Baseball on behalf of his constituency. Carberry was simply a motivated citizen with knowledge of local government who thought that it could and should be done.

So he did it.

* * *

I spoke with Carberry at Dodd Stadium during the last week of the 2015 season as the Class A Short Season Tigers hosted the Lowell Spinners. He's a Norwich native who has practiced law for 36 years, with a current focus on land use and real estate. Over a ballpark meal of chicken fingers and french fries, he explained he embarked on his project to build a stadium in the Norwich area after attending a Florida State League game in 1993 (or thereabouts).

"I thought, 'Wow, this is really great! Why can't we do something here?'" said Carberry. "So I started to do some research on it."

He did this research simply because he "thought it would be a good idea."

"I was doing it on my own. I wasn't a city employee. I wasn't working for the chamber," he said. "I was a lawyer and I had done a lot of economic development stuff. I had run for Congress a couple of years earlier [in 1992], but I didn't hold office or anything. I started writing some articles about it -- promoting it and researching it. I started writing a feasibility study."

While putting that together, Carberry happened to hear an interview on New York City sports talk station WFAN that piqued his interest. Barry Gordon, owner of the Eastern League Albany-Colonie Yankees, was discussing a failed attempt to move the franchise to Long Island. The New York Mets had vetoed that move due to territorial issues, leaving the Albany club searching for an alternative. Carberry "knew a guy who knew Barry Gordon," and through this channel, he was able to get in touch.  

"I said [to Gordon], 'Have you ever thought about Connecticut?' He said, 'Yeah.' 'Well, this is what's going on here. It's a good market, it's kind of a tourist area -- we've got 450,000 or 500,000 people within 30 miles,'" said Carberry of his initial pitch. "We set something up for the next month, so I got to finish the feasibility study. [Gordon and his partner] came to Connecticut, and they liked it."

Of course, a big part of a potential stadium's "feasibility" depends on whether or not the money exists to build it.

"Twenty years ago, the economy was in bad shape in Connecticut, and they announced this, like, $300 million-dollar grant program where different regions of the state could apply for development projects," said Carberry. "So there was a special opportunity to come forward and get some grant money to build the stadium. And that became part of the feasibility study, a combination of grants and state loans, local loans and ownership investment."

The state grant was approved, but for a proposed site on city-owned land in nearby Groton, Connecticut. That arrangement fell through, and Carberry had to scramble. 

"We had done a study of like 20 different sites and this site [where Dodd Stadium stands now] wasn't even on the list," he said. "Within a week, [the] Albany [franchise] had to decide whether to renew its lease. The grant had been approved but for a different town."

Carberry had to act quickly.

"I knew some of the guys on the Norwich Community Development board. I went to them, said, 'Look, we've got the money, we've got the team, but the region's going to lose it if we don't come up with a place fast.' The Norwich Community Development Corporation owned or ran the whole business park [where Dodd Stadium is now located]. They owned the part in the front [of the ballpark], but the land behind it -- about 20 acres -- was owned by a guy by the name of Greenberg, in New York City. They got him on the phone, struck a deal that day, and then we had to go the Norwich City Council. The council had a lot of guts, because they agreed to commit that $700,000 [for the land] virtually overnight on the basis of the feasibility study."

What Carberry calls the "three ingredients for a stadium" were now in place -- the funding, the land and the team. Furthermore, Albany's relocation to Norwich had already been approved by the Eastern League and the National Association of Professional Baseball.

Glenn Carberry Councourse

But there was one thing that Carberry and his cohorts hadn't counted on: The Boss.

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, under the influence of New York governor Mario Cuomo, announced he was withdrawing his approval for the franchise to move to Norwich. The motivation for Steinbrenner's out-of-the-blue action is a story in and of itself, tied up in election-year politics and his efforts to build a new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

"All I'll say on that is that we were involved at the highest levels of government and baseball to make sure that the original decision could go on," said Carberry. "But there were a lot of ups and downs. It all got announced one day -- the baseball team's coming, it's on TV and everything. And a day later, Mario Cuomo, governor of New York, announced that they weren't going to allow the team to leave Albany in an election year and come to Connecticut. So we had to deal with those politics, and we got the team here."

Crisis averted, construction began on the Populous-designed facility in November 1994. It opened in 1995 as the home of the newly rechristened Norwich Navigators. Carberry took on the role of the team's lawyer and, several years later, bought into the ownership group so he could "put his money where his mouth is."

The Navigators remained a Yankees affiliate for eight years, switching to the San Francisco Giants in 2003. Three years later, under new ownership and amid several years of declining attendance, the team was rebranded as the Connecticut Defenders. That franchise relocated to Richmond after the 2009 season. The New York-Penn League Oneonta Tigers then relocated to Norwich and took over occupancy of Dodd Stadium.

"Double-A was a pretty aggressive step for this marketplace and it worked for a while," said Carberry. I think [short season] is actually a perfect fit. … To carry five full months in this market was a bit of an overstretch."

These days, no longer serving as the team lawyer or as a member of the ownership group, Carberry simply enjoys coming to Dodd Stadium as a fan. It represents a chance to watch young Tigers prospects, enjoy time with his family and reminisce on two decades of memories at a ballpark he essentially willed into existence. 

"My kids basically grew up here, hanging around," he said. "My son was an intern here. My daughter is autistic, but she loves coming here and hanging out, seeing Tater [the mascot]. It was a place for our family, was how I viewed it, and so did a lot of other families.

"It all came together and worked out pretty well. And, you know, they named the concourse after me. So I can't complain."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.