October 31, 2018

Superior Court denies Hartford's request to control DoNo properties

Image | Contributed
Image | Contributed
A breakdown of DoNo properties.

Hartford's Downtown North redevelopment efforts are in limbo after a Superior Court judge on Tuesday denied the city's request to control the property without interference from the fired developer of Dunkin' Donuts Park.

The city last month asked the court to remove liens on the properties surrounding the baseball stadium so it can redevelop the area as part of a $200 million mixed-use project led by Stamford developer RMS Cos.

The city hired DoNo Hartford LLC and its affiliate Centerplan Construction Co. in early 2015 to build the stadium and surrounding development, but the developer was fired in mid-2016 due to delays in stadium construction following a $10 million cost overrun. The delay forced the Hartford Yard Goats to play their inaugural season on the road.

The companies subsequently filed a $90 million wrongful termination lawsuit against the city of Hartford, and a new contractor was hired to finish the ballpark. RMS Cos. was also recently chosen to take over the Downtown North development. Centerplan last month blamed six subcontractors for construction delays, cost overruns and alleged shoddy work as it successfully brought into its lawsuit several companies that were involved in the stadium's design.

The city argues, regardless of whether its decision to fire DoNo Hartford LLC/Centerplan was justified or not, it shouldn't have to honor a ground lease with the developers as it terminated their stadium design and construction contracts.

A section of the contract lists any "event of default" as means to permit termination.

But on Tuesday, Judge Thomas Moukawsher in Hartford Superior Court said the developer insists it didn't default, therefore the court can't grant the city a summary judgment based on the contract's language.

"The plain language of the contracts doesn't allow the city to terminate the ground lease in the absence of a developer fault," Moukawsher wrote in his decision. "This may be deeply inconvenient to the city. But it would be deeply inequitable to terminate a contract on equitable grounds without first weighing the equities for and against it."

Howard Rifkin, Hartford's corporation counsel, in a statement Wednesday said "we're disappointed in this ruling and we're considering our options going forward."

Under the RMS plan, the developer would build 800 apartments over time. The project recently received $12 million from the state Bond Commission to build 150 to 200 apartment units behind the Red Lion Hotel on Trumbull Street.

The proposed project also includes 60,000 square feet of retail space, a downtown grocery store and 2,000 new parking spaces.

This story has been updated to include comments from Howard Rifkin

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