A Superior Court Judge has sided with the City of Hartford and the Capitol Region Development Authority (CRDA) by dismissing a lawsuit that alleged the city and CRDA had orchestrated a phony request for proposals process to remake Dillon Stadium into a workable soccer venue.
Civic Mind, LLC and Hartford City FC had both bid on the project, which was awarded to Hartford Sports Group, but Civic Mind says the RFP process was a sham, a conclusion also reached by the State Contracting Standards Board (SCSB), which questioned the use of a “charade of an RFP process and a convoluted procurement process,” after researching the issue.
Emails showed the CRDA had already been working with Hartford Sports Group and owner Bruce Mandell to remake the stadium, which had fallen into disrepair before issuing the RFP.
The other bidders were also not made aware that the project would receive a $10 million bond from the state, leading them to submit RFPs using private funds with longer time periods to get the stadium back on its feet. The project ultimately cost roughly $14 million and is now home to the professional soccer team Hartford Athletic.
The defendants, which included the City of Hartford, CRDA, and individually named persons involved with the Dillon Stadium deal, argued that Civic Mind was merely a frustrated bidder and were under no obligation to make an RFP.
Superior Court Judge J. Farley dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety, echoing the defendants’ arguments. The judge found Civic Mind did not have standing for the lawsuit and “its claims for equitable relief are moot because the RFP process was abandoned and no contract awarded,” according to the decision.
Farley wrote that “the RFP, even if inaptly named, was not intended to constitute a ‘competitive solicitation’ within the scope of the city’s procurement ordinances.”
“At most it may have facilitated future competitive processes related to the redevelopment of Dillon Stadium, such as those that CRDA subsequently implemented to procure the reconstruction of the stadium,” Farley wrote.
Reached for comment, Thomas “TJ” Clynch, CEO of Civic Mind, said they believe the court “misunderstands the RFP as ‘abandoned.'”
“In reality, they simply restructured the resulting contracts to circumvent laws and oversight. In other words, but for the investigations into their fraud, they never would have deviated from the RFP’s contracting process that was underway,” Clynch said.
Civic Mind was initially tapped to redevelop the stadium in 2013 but was bounced in favor of Sports Management Group, which ultimately resulted in a corruption scandal that saw the owners of Sports Management Group convicted of money laundering.
This time, however, Civic Mind says they were again passed over in favor of Hartford Sports Group, which was already in the works before the RFP was even issued. The project was also mired in other controversies, including a self-reported illegal campaign donation made by Mandell to gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, which resulted in the City of Hartford altering the contract with Hartford Sports Group in order to continue moving forward.
The CRDA was also faulted by Connecticut state auditors for spending more than $4 million of the $10 million state bond without the proper contracts in place.
Civic Mind says it intends to file an appeal with the goal of fast-tracking the case to Connecticut’s Supreme Court for matters of public interest.
“Let’s be clear about what’s happening here. Public officials manufactured a crooked bid to reward their well-connected friends and now have powerful political allies and taxpayer funded lawyers to protect them,” Clynch said. “We will appeal and continue our advocacy because the impact of this corruption will affect the region for generations.”