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The Hartford Courant - 8 / 13 - Monday, December 7, 1998 A WIDE OPEN FIELD OF DREAMS IF NOT A STADIUM, WHAT COULD $ HAAR Excerpts Want to restore G. Fox and Sage- Allen to their historic glory on Hartford's Main Street, with a downtown retail cavalcade to boot? How about this deluxe housing package: 2,000 rehabilitated urban apartments, five years of rental subsidies with special-needs counseling for 4,000 families and enough cash to leverage 2,000 new, affordable suburban homes and 2,500 loans to first-time home buyers. Or maybe a brand-new Lexus LX 470 4-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle for every one of Durham's 5,800 men, women and children. These are things the state could buy with $375 million, the price of the downtown Hartford stadium for the New England Patriots. There are plenty of real ideas on how to spend an NFL-sized outlay in ways that would help the downtrodden, add high-paying jobs and sharpen Greater Hartford's image. And there are whimsical schemes that offer a yardstick for the stadium plan. All of it has made for a lot of fodder around the water cooler. If the state would spend massive bucks enriching a rich man, why not entertain some of these other niceties? Stadium proponents say in response that only the Patriots plan would revitalize the city. That's what the debate in the Legislature this week will explore. Bruce Fraser, executive director of the Connecticut Humanities Council, has a wish list that doesn't come close to the bucks Patriots owner Robert Kraft figures to pocket if Connecticut builds the stadium he craves. Fraser gushed over the possibility of adding $500,000 to train teachers and bring schoolchildren to a $600,000 exhibit on the role of the sea in U.S. history. For now, the humanities council can't find a way to pay for the education at next year's exhibit in Mystic. As for bigger dreams, Fraser said he's struggling to replace federal funding -- down from $10.1 million in 1995 to $2.3 million this year. ``I guess we've been stunted for so long that my imagination can't break free to $375 million,'' Fraser said. William Hosley at the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society offered a slightly bigger dream project, but still short of the stadium cost. ``Fifteen to $20million is what it would cost to transform Hartford into an urban heritage park of sufficient quality to be adopted by the National Park Service,'' said Hosley, executive director of the society. The park, he added, would tie together the city's valuable public historic assets, such as cemeteries, collections and buildings. For $1.5 million, perhaps more, the state could, for example, fully renovate the Isham-Terry House on High Street and restore the Old North Cemetery, the unkempt resting place of Daniel Wadsworth, Horace Bushnell, Frederick Law Olmstead and other historic figures. With $375 million, the state could buy a new computer and private lessons on how to use it for every family in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport. But economists say creating jobs is a crucial measure of public spending, and the key is to buy things that spin off sustainable growth. Connecticut's burgeoning biotechnology industry offered enough hope to justify a $40 million addition at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. What of $375 million for biotech? `If I had that over a five-year period I think I could create a major center for biotech development,'' said Frank E. Samuel Jr., president of the Edison Biotechnology Center in Cleveland, a development agency. He would recruit, he said, ``a lot of faculty, assistants, researchers, post-docs, and graduate students that were really thrilled by the idea of starting companies.'' Finally, there is always the taxpayer-relief option, for the state that has everything. ``If we had $375 million in our hot little hands today, there isn't anything that stands out other than retiring debt or giving rebates to shareholders,'' said Susan Coleman, finance professor at the University of Hartford.
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