Feb. 07--HARTFORD -- It takes some imagination to see beyond the concrete, dirt and steel that is becoming Dunkin' Donuts Park, a $63 million minor league baseball stadium taking shape just north of downtown.
But they provide the basic elements of what the developer, the team and city officials say will be one of the nicest minor league ballparks in the country.
Steel studs beneath the stands frame space for heated and cooled indoor batting cages. Tiered concrete forms give shape to stadium seating areas. Skeletal metal towers await high-powered lights high above the playing field.
The gravel base for the warning track in right field is down. The outline of the pitcher's mound and the diamond shape of the infield are clearly visible.
With an impasse over stadium financing apparently behind, the project is moving steadily toward a Yard Goats home opening date of May 31.
In December, it became apparent the stadium would not open on time, on April 7, and could not be completed for the previously agreed upon budget of $56 million. But the developer, city and team's owner have agreed to share the burden of cost overruns, and everyone is shooting for a new home opener.
"There's no more 'stop, go stop, go,'" said Jason Rudnick, construction manager for Centerplan Cos. and DoNo Hartford LLC, the developer of the ballpark. "We reset the bar and we're on schedule."
Six days a week, Rudnick said, 165 to 175 construction workers are on site.
"These guys have been here every single day except Sunday," he said.
And they are busy inside and out.
At field level, where "dugout suites" with separate concessions and restrooms will be situated next to dugouts for the home and away teams, most of the framing is done and Sheetrock is stacked in the area where the batting cages will be located.
The area also includes spacious home- and away-team clubhouses, a gymnasium, offices for the managers and dressing rooms for the umpires and for Chompers and Chewie, the team's mascots.
On the main concourse, where fans will enter the park from Main or Pleasant streets, much of the concrete has been poured. Framing continues in an area behind the home plate seats, where concessions will be sold. One of the concessionaires will be Dunkin' Donuts -- open only on game days.
On the ballpark's upper concourse, concrete flooring is nearing completion, but framing of the team's 18 glass-enclosed "premium suites" has not begun. This area will also include a sports bar and lounge, the team's offices, a "ballroom" for corporate affairs, and the gas fireplace. An area here will open onto Main Street.
The 6,000-seat ballpark will also feature symbols from corporate sponsors. A large Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup will emit steam to celebrate a home run. A stag, the symbol for another corporate sponsor, The Hartford Financial Services Group, will grace the roof near "the knuckle," where the first base grandstand and right field grandstand meet.
For Rudnick, the construction manager, the pace of progress shows that the ballpark is on track for May 17, the date for "substantial completion."
That schedule includes structural steel -- minus the Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup -- 100 percent complete by March 9, the first milestone the developer must meet under the new agreement. Team owner Josh Solomon said he expects the coffee cup to be up for opening day.
Rudnick said the March 9 milestone will be met, but he was already forced to answer questions about the construction schedule last week at a Hartford Stadium Authority meeting. The company overseeing construction for the city noted that the DoNo LLC had not begun some recent installations as early as they could have. Rudnick assured members of the authority that it will meet its milestones, but the city has instituted a new system to ensure that happens.
Daily Progress Reports
Sean M. Fitzpatrick, the city's director of development services, said he now gets a daily report from International Facilities Group, the city's independent construction manager.
"Instead of saying, 'On time, On budget,' we get much more granular than that," Fitzpatrick said.
At the end of each work day, Centerplan and DoNo Hartford send a report to IFG. IFG looks at it, assesses it, and adds its own comments and perspective. The next morning the report is on Fitzpatrick's desk.
"I can be on the phone with anyone," Fitzpatrick said. "What's up with this, what's up with that."
Fitzpatrick said he modeled the daily reports after those produced by the Port Authority in New York when One World Trade Center -- sometimes called the "Freedom Tower" -- was under construction. Fitzpatrick was previously chief of staff to the authority's chairman, so when he took the job in Hartford, he called the authority and got tips on what to require in the reports, which included daily photos.
Although the two projects can hardly be compared, One World Trade also was beset by mushrooming costs and major delays.
"What got that project going was the attention to detail," Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick said he also expects if the weather is good on weekends, workers will be on the site.
Rudnick has invited city officials and others with a stake in the delivery of the ballpark to tour the stadium and view the progress for themselves. The city council was supposed to take a tour Friday but the snowstorm forced a postponement
Council President and new stadium authority member T.J. Clarke had already taken a solo tour the last week of January. Clark said he was impressed with the park, which he called "the Yankee Stadium of the minor leagues" and with the amount of construction activity.
"It's deceiving from the outside," he said. "There has been a substantial amount of progress. They're not BS-ing."
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