As the original developer of Hartford, Connecticut’s Dunkin’ Donuts Park continues to fight its 2016 removal from the project, a new developer has begun work adding apartments, stores, and parking in the area around the minor league baseball park.
Stamford, Connecticut’s RMS Companies recently started work on 270 apartments and a parking garage as part of a four-phase plan to continue developing the area around the park.
RMS Companies Chief Executive Officer Randy Salvatore noted “The whole project will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 apartments, with community retail and hopefully a grocery store.”
Salvatore added that the project’s completion, which may take around six years, would require “definitely a few hundred million dollars overall.”
The park — home to Double-A minor league team the Hartford Yard Goats — originally opened on April 13, 2017, for the 2017 minor league season. However, this was over a year after the stadium was intended to originally open — a delay which resulted in original developers Centerplan Construction Company and DoNo Hartford, LLC being removed from the project by the city.
According to Hartford stadium authority chairman I. Charles Mathews, Centerplan Construction and DoNo Hartford announced that the project was nearly $10.4 million over budget in December 2015 — despite the matter not being mentioned at any point prior.
Noting in January 2016 that Hartford and the owners of the Yard Goats were not willing to spend more money on the project, Mathews said “You’re not coming before us with a letter of credit saying you have $10.4 million…What’s the path forward?”
Echoing Mathews, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin — then in his first week of office — further declined to commit additional city funding to the project at the time.
The project’s delay additionally caused a number of issues with minor league baseball’s Eastern League, seemingly blindsiding officials as the Hartford Yard Goats team was eventually forced to play the entire 2016 season on the road. After being told of the delay in a meeting on January 5, 2016, Eastern League Commissioner Joe McEacharn said “I’ve been reasonable and I’ve been civil…[but] Frankly, I’ve been lied to and this project has been misrepresented.”
McEacharn added that the lack of communication from the developers was one of the biggest issues, noting that “Never once did anyone talk about four to six weeks late. If I knew that in October we could have dealt with it.”
Park’s original developers have continued to push back against their 2016 termination
Since being removed from the project in June 2016, CEO of Centerplan Construction Robert Landino shifted blame away from the developers, claiming that “The city’s actions negated our ability to deliver the project on budget and on time.”
In 2019, the project’s original developers sued the city of Hartford for wrongful termination, seeking $90 million in damages.
However, the jury ruled that Centerplan Construction and DoNo Hartford “were themselves responsible for their failure to substantially complete construction…by the contractually extended deadline,” awarding the city $335,000. Following this verdict, a Superior Court judge ruled that the city should retain the rights to develop land around the park, leading to the new contract with RMS Companies.
This has led to the original developers asking the Connecticut Supreme Court for a new trial. Centerplan Construction and DoNo Hartford have claimed that changes by the project’s architect — Pendulum Studios — caused the delays in construction.
April 2021 comments by attorney Louis Pepe of Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP reinforced this, noting that “hundreds of new changes” were submitted in the weeks prior to the project’s original completion date and that the developers shouldn’t be seen as responsible for the delays in construction.
Pepe claimed that Hartford had final approval over the project, maintaining that “No changes could be made without the consent of the city” and that Centerplan Construction and DoNo Hartford shouldn’t be held accountable for delays caused by what it claims was “flawed” design.
However, counter-arguments by Leslie King — an attorney serving as Hartford’s representative during arguments to the Supreme Court — claimed that the developers were directing the architect at the project. The city alleged that any plan changes “had everything to do with the directives of Centerplan…in order, presumably, to save money.”
“On the ground, the factual question of who was directing the architects was clearly and unequivocally Centerplan,” King added.
Hartford maintains that issues with the project’s development should have been addressed earlier on. King continued in saying that “I think it was a very ambitious schedule to begin with…I think that’s true and I think that the plaintiffs knew that when they signed their contracts with the guaranteed maximum price and a time of the essence [March 11 2016] deadline.”
City of Hartford, new developers hope that major issues are behind the project
In contrast to the original developers’ ongoing litigation, Randy Salvatore spoke with confidence about the city’s ability to get the project done properly, saying “The city is doing all the right things and heading in the right direction.”
Hartford has had a difficult time with its finances in recent years — a 2018 bailout from the state of Connecticut provided $550 million for the city to cover its mounting debts, a situation which likely played into the city’s unwillingness to spend more money on Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
However, despite the difficulties, Mayor Bronin has spoken positively about the city’s path forward, stating “We have worked hard to maintain and deserve the trust of all of our partners, from taxpayers to businesses to residents to legislators…I think what we’ve shown is we were honest about the challenges we faced, we were serious about tackling them in a real long-term way and we stuck to our plan.”
These struggles haven’t discouraged RMS Companies and Randy Salvatore, who echoed much of Mayor Bronin’s sentiment. “If I didn’t believe that [the city was headed in the right direction], then I wouldn’t invest this kind of money,” Salvatore maintained.
“[RMS Companies has] never had a problem like that with any municipality…We have a great relationship with the city of Hartford,” Salvatore added. “They’ve been great to work with for us. I don’t think there will be any issues whatsoever going forward.”