The quasi-public Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) is claiming it was under no obligation to hold a competitive bidding process for the redevelopment of Dillon Stadium despite issuing a Request for Proposals in 2017 that saw three companies submit bids to turn the dilapidated stadium into a functional soccer venue. 

The CRDA selected Bruce Mandell’s Hartford Sports Group (HSG) following the call for RFPs. Dillon Stadium was renamed Trinity Health Stadium in 2022 and is the home field for the professional soccer team Hartford Athletic. 

The CRDA’s argument detailed in court filings is the latest in a lawsuit brought by Civic Mind, LLC, which alleges the selection of HSG was rife with favoritism and a fraudulent bidding process.

In response to questions by the court, the CRDA argued that the Request for Proposals to redevelop Dillon Stadium into a venue for a professional soccer team was “not a competitive solicitation” under either the City of Hartford’s charter, which requires a public bidding process for purchases and services over $25,000, or the state’s competitive bidding regulations.

Instead, the CRDA claims it was merely seeking ideas for how Dillon Stadium could be redeveloped when it issued an RFP in September of 2017, for which it received three bids within the 28-day time frame. 

According to the court filings, “the RFP did not invite respondents to provide specific services to the City under defined contractual terms in exchange for payment of public funds; it was an open-ended request for ideas about how City property could be profitably redeveloped and used.”

The lawsuit also names members of the CRDA Board, including former Executive Director Michael Friemuth and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, along with numerous others in their individual capacity. Friemuth and other members of the CRDA claim in a brief that the case against them individually should be dismissed because of “the immunity afforded to them in their respective individual capacities,” under Connecticut statute.

Friemuth argues he “did not personally benefit in any way from the Dillon Stadium redevelopment,” and that Civic Mind “lacks any facts to establish wanton, willful, malicious or reckless conduct on the part of Freimuth, to negate his immunity.”

Civic Mind argues, however, that the city’s prior two attempts to redevelop Dillon Stadium were both competitive bidding processes that never came to fruition following a corruption scandal in city government.

“These two prior instances of attempting to develop Dillon Stadium utilizing the RFP process – both under the Connecticut general statutes and the Hartford Code – demonstrates the Defendant City’s use of competitive solicitations under the Hartford Code,” the brief says. “Accordingly, there can be no question that the RFP in this Action is a competitive solicitation and, therefore, Civic Mind has standing in this Action.”

Civid Mind disputes the claim that the 2017 RFP was just a request for ideas, noting the RFP included aerial photos of the stadium and “establishes the specifications, scope of services, and the proposed contractual terms necessary for the renovation of Dillon Stadium.”

Civic Mind also argues that following a State Elections and Enforcement Commission (SEEC) investigation into campaign contributions made by Mandell, it was determined the CRDA, a state quasi-public agency, was acting as the agent of the City of Hartford and therefore subject to competitive bidding regulations under both state statute and the city code.

The CRDA and the other numerous defendants claim in past filings that Civic Mind’s lawsuit is merely a matter of a disgruntled bidder passed over for a project and therefore the lawsuit should be dismissed.

However, Civic Mind claims the bidding process was rigged from the beginning with CRDA always planning to contract with HSG, thus making the RFP solicitation a “manufactured process to extract $10,000,000 in state bond funds necessary to complete the predetermined project to HSG’s specifications,” according to the initial court complaint.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information requests show CRDA was already in talks with HSG owner Bruce Mandell regarding their “credible plan” to move forward with the stadium renovation.

The $14 million Dillon Stadium renovation was completed with $10 million in state bond money procured by the CRDA. The CRDA’s board at the time included then Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Benjamin Barnes, who also served on the State Bond Commission. A site assessment conducted by ICON Venue Group prior to the RFP determined it would take more than $10 million to redevelop the park.

Bidders like Civic Mind were unaware of the ICON assessment and that public funds would potentially be available for the renovation. Civic Mind had submitted a privately-funded plan valued at $1.5 million while a third bidder, Hartford FC, submitted a $650,000 proposal, according to court documents. 

The SEEC’s investigation into Mandell’s political contributions, which could have torpedoed the whole deal, saw the City of Hartford and Mayor Bronin rewrite the contract so the HSG became a city contractor rather than a state contractor with the CRDA.

An investigation in the Dillon Stadium deal by the State Contracting and Standards Board (SCSB) questioned why the CRDA held the “charade of an RFP and a convoluted procurement process.”

“This report focused on the procurement and contracting processes for Dillon stadium, but the Working Group wonders why the RFP was issued by CRDA on behalf of the City in the first place,” the SCSB wrote in their report. They also cited the CRDA for failing to disclose the project would cost over $10 million as outlined in the ICON report and the possibility there would be state money available for the project.

“It appears that HSG through its prior discussion with the City was aware of the need for $10 million for renovating Dillon Stadium,” the SCSB wrote. “In issuing the RFP, it should have included the amount of funds necessary to renovate Dillon stadium and the potential source of public funds so that respondents or potentially other respondents were aware of such funds.”

“Trinity Health Stadium stands as a monument to political corruption. And soccer is more than sport, it’s culture,” said Thomas TJ Clynch, chief impact officer of Civic Mind. “We can’t allow this project to represent who we are as a city or as a state. Connecticut is better than Hartford Athletic.”

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels,...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *