Hartford’s Dillon Stadium to open, finished or not
HARTFORD — Hartford’s Dillon Stadium is set to reopen Saturday, even though workers have not quite finished the $14 million in mostly taxpayer-funded renovations needed to turn what was a crumbling eyesore into the home of Connecticut’s new professional soccer team.
The lighting, sound system, paving and some plumbing in the 84-year-old facility are incomplete, and there will be a temporary scoreboard for the United Soccer League’s game on Saturday between Hartford Athletic and the Indy Eleven.
But officials say the 5,500-seat stadium, which originally was scheduled to open in April, is now ready to welcome fans. The game is scheduled for 5 p.m., in part because of the lighting issues.
“Over the next few weeks, months, we’ll continue to add pieces to the stadium,” said Bruce Mandell, the chief executive and principal owner of Hartford Athletic. “This is going to be the best stadium in our league.”
The stadium originally was expected to cost $10 million, seat 6,000 people and include more amenities. But officials found major problems with the site when construction began. That increased the price and led to some cuts to the scale of the project.
“When we started a year ago, parts of the stadium were actually condemned,” said Michael Freimuth, the executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, which led the renovation effort. “One side of the field was a foot higher than the other side. We basically had to take it down to subsoils and rebuild the place.”
The rebuilt stadium, with new stands, a new artificial turf field, a new press box, restrooms and concessions, is a multipurpose facility, Freimuth said. It also can be easily expanded by several thousand seats if there is a demand, he said.
He expects it will host collegiate and high school football, lacrosse, rugby and concerts. The University of Connecticut already plans to play its home soccer games next season at Dillon, while the school’s own new field in Storrs is being completed, he said.
Since 1935, Dillon Stadium has housed everything from professional football to soccer to concerts by bands such as the Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones. It has most recently served as home field for two local high schools.
In 2014, an effort to revive it failed when an investment group that had been awarded $12 million to renovate it was found guilty of embezzling some of the money.
The Capital Region Development Authority in December 2017 selected Mandell and his Hartford Sports Group to give it another try.
The ownership group agreed last year to put up $2.3 million to supplement the $10 million in state bonding when the construction problems were discovered. The stadium also received $1.2 million from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
The renovation followed the 2017 opening of a minor league baseball stadium on the other side of Hartford and the ongoing redevelopment of the Hartford’s riverfront, where the University of Connecticut recently relocated a satellite campus.
“All of this creates opportunities for Hartford residents, and it also will help thousands, if not tens of thousands, of folks around the region rediscover their capital city,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin.
Officials hope it also will lead to a bump in revenue for the surrounding area. It is walking distance to the Front Street riverfront development.
“I come from over an hour away,” said Myke Furhman, of New Fairfield, who founded the Mad Hat Massive, a supporters group that brings drums and horns and sings songs at every game. “I can guarantee that after the final whistle, I’ll be in Hartford for at least an hour celebrating at whatever establishment is nearby.”