A deal to lease city land to a developer who said he would finance and build a multi-million dollar soccer stadium that would be home to a professional soccer team is all but dead, as news reports about the man behind the deal have caused even its main backer to retreat.
“I don’t think, in its current form, it will happen before this council, unless some things change,” said Hartford Councilman Ken Kennedy, who was one of the project’s biggest supporters until this week.
Kennedy was hoping to approve the project before the end of his current term, but that now seems unlikely -- and the support that he would need to pass the project on the city council appears to have disappeared.
“Some things have come to light that have just put everything into question,” Kennedy said. “And, unless the developer can answer some of those questions and fully demonstrate the ability to finish the project, then, yes, everyone has grave concerns.”
Those concerns are the result of reporting in The Hartford Courant that highlighted past legal and financial troubles of James Duckett -- the man who on the one hand said he had $440 million in the bank for development deals like this, but who on the other couldn’t pay his rent.
Last week, Duckett told the Hartford City Council that he would build a 15,000 seat soccer stadium with 25 executive suites at the site of the current Dillon Stadium -- just off I-91 near the historic Coltsville section. Dillon has been the home for high school football games, music concerts, and other events.
The land is owned by the city. It planned to enter into a long-term lease with Duckett, his company Black Diamond Consulting Group, and its soccer partner, Premier Sports Management Group. While the city was planning to pay less than $1 million to prepare the site for development, Duckett said he was ready to privately finance a $30 million to $40 million stadium.
Council President Shawn Wooden has also come out against the deal.
“There are a host of concerns,” Wooden said. “And, just based on the information that I’ve learned to date since this was introduced on the council agenda, I can’t support it.”
This is the second of two major stadium projects being pursued in the city. The first is a new minor league baseball stadium, which is under construction and on pace to open in April. The soccer stadium was the second.
Kennedy said the soccer project was the product of two years of work. And, while he doesn’t want that work to be wasted, he also “at the end of the day, it’s got to be what’s in the city’s best interest.”