The future of development around Dunkin’ Park remains unclear as the latest legal endeavors by the City of Hartford to regain control of the land are pushed closer to the end of the year. A hearing scheduled to commence this week was delayed potentially until late November. Consequently, plans for the mixed-use development of parcels close to the City’s minor league ballpark remain stalled as the City’s legal fees continue to mount.
Both the City and the former developers – Centerplan and Do No Hartford – have been in a legal battle that has ensued since Mayor Luke Bronin fired the developers, thus creating a need to determine who has the legal right to develop the land around the ballpark. This long-running dispute could last for years, but earlier this summer both sides publicly hinted at a potential settlement, but they are still firmly dug in for the long haul.
According to the Hartford Courant, an attorney for Centerplan and Do No Hartford suggested a potential opportunity to resolve the dispute regarding claims that the City wrongfully terminated the developers. In late July, Louis R. Pepe, a partner in the law firm McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney, & Carpenter in Hartford, told the Courant, “… litigation is seldom the best way to resolve disputes like this. Centerplan and DoNo are open to any reasonable proposal to end the current standoff or to engage in mediation for that purpose.”
Pepe continued, “Unfortunately, the city has made it clear it will not sit down with Centerplan and DoNo, and so there can be little doubt who must bear the responsibility for the freeze on the parcels in question.”
In a statement to the Courant, City Corporation Counsel – Howard Rifkin – disputed assertions that the City was not open to talks to resolve the litigation. He agreed that litigation is not the best approach to resolve these kinds of issues, and the City is confident it will prevail – yet again -in a jury trial, as it did in the first trial. Rifkin continued, ” … we take seriously our fundamental obligation to protect taxpayers. The City has never closed the door on [the] discussion to resolve this litigation, and we are certainly open to reasonable resolutions – but I’d put a lot of emphasis on the word ‘reasonable’.”
City records indicate that Legal fees have already topped $6 million. This long-standing legal battle has been pushed back until at least mid-November. A delay was granted due to the Judge’s trial schedule. Centerplan and DoNo Hartford blame the city because its flawed designs resulted in cost overruns and delays in the ballpark construction. The previous developers also moved to regain control of the development around Dunkin’ Park.
In retrospect, after terminating Centerplan and DoNo from the contract, the City hired another developer to complete the 6,100-seat Dunkin’ Park. It opened for the 2017 season of the Yard Goats (a year later than previously scheduled). In 2019, a superior court jury sided with the City’s decision to terminate Centerplan and DoNo Hartford.
After its 2019 victory in the wrongful termination lawsuit, the City of Hartford contracted RMS Companies to take over the redevelopment. The 270 apartments included in the first phase are now completed, but the litigation regarding who has the right to develop has prevented RMS from breaking ground on the second phase of four planned phases.
Last year, the Superior Court ordered a new trial due to the ambiguity of who has legal control over the stadium and its design. Centerplan and DoNo Hartford have argued that the City of Hartford’s flawed design created cost overruns and delays in the construction. The barrier to further development intensified when a Superior Court judge ruled that a decision regarding the right to develop should be made after the new trial and a decision on the wrongful termination issue. The new trial is scheduled for April 2024.
In the meantime, RMS Salvatore, in his commitment to move forward, entered into a contract to purchase the neighboring campus of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and has announced plans to build a phased-in-mixed-use development on the RPI campus. Hence, approval is now sought for $16.6 million in financing (set aside for the next phase of North Crossing) to be potentially used for the first phase of the planned development on the RPI campus.
Source: Kenneth R. Gosselin, Hartford Courant, (Monday, October 2, 2023) firstname.lastname@example.org