The Hartford Courant - 8 / 13 - Monday, December 7, 1998
A WIDE OPEN FIELD OF DREAMS
IF NOT A STADIUM, WHAT COULD $
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
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
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
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
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.