I think I've got
it: WFSB, Channel 3, wants to expand its Latino market. So, it's
heading to the suburbs and leaving Hartford, which has one of
the largest concentrations of Puerto Ricans in the country and
boasts the only Latino mayor in a capital city.
No, that won't pass the sniff test.
But it also doesn't mean that WFSB wears the black hat in its
startling decision to bolt the city it has called home for close
to half a century, squashing plans for a new $20 million, 60,000-square-foot
Mayor Eddie Perez, chief of staff Matthew Hennessy and everyone
else involved in the city's negotiations with WFSB Vice President
and General Manager Elden A. Hale Jr. have to do a little soul-searching.
What made a major asset like WFSB, owned by Meredith Corp. and
employing 200 people, renege on its commitment to expand its
operation in the city?
Those familiar with the negotiations say Channel 3 was balking
at minority-hiring provisions the city required for construction.
And that Channel 3 felt put off by what it perceived as the heavy-handed
tone of the city's negotiations. The station felt like the city
disregarded its 48-year history in Hartford and instead treated
the station as if the city was doing it a favor, instead of the
other way around. Channel 3 had concerns about space from the
beginning and could have built its facility for less money in
the suburbs. But it wanted to retain its presence in the capital.
While Perez and his administration rightfully tried to protect
the city's interest in mandating timelines for construction and
hiring provisions for minorities, women and city residents, WFSB
felt it was being unduly squeezed.
The two sides quibbled over many of the provisions, including
one that would require the city to allocate 50 percent of its
advertising budget for non-legal affairs with WFSB over a seven-year
WFSB's exit doesn't bode well
for shaking Hartford's old reputation of not being particularly
business-friendly. Certainly, future developers of the long-vacant
3.4-acre parcel off Trumbull and Main street - known as "12-B" -
will want to know the lowdown on the WFSB blow-off.
"We were willing to pay a premium to stay in the city because
I thought it was worth it," said Hale. Asked if WFSB was
leery about inking provisions for hiring minorities and women
on the construction site, he said, "there was no minority-hiring
issue with the city," indicating that any problems along
those lines were for the most part resolved.
Hennessy said the city was
blindsided by WFSB's decision. He said that the station would
be getting millions of dollars in public tax perks and that "there
are obligations involved with that."
Both sides would like to make this story one with a short shelf
life. Hartford wants to keep its development-mojo going. WFSB
doesn't want to dog the city on its way out.
The biggest blunder in this deal is that a contract was never
signed. So, when the tone and tenor of the negotiations became
contentious and space needs became pronounced, the station had
a huge out.
Lesson No. 1 for Senor Alcalde and his business-conscious administration:
Next time you trumpet a big development, make sure both parties
have signed on the dotted line.
Actually, like the Patriots pulling out of its deal for a downtown
stadium a few years back, this may work out for the best. With
a rash of development plans now taking shape - the Hartford Hilton,
the convention center/Marriott Hotel and the under-construction
civic center - the value of 12-B is rising. Channel 3's Constitution
Plaza building, if it sells to the city, and the long dormant
Clarion Hotel nearby also make for an appealing development package.
And don't forget about city Councilman Robert Painter's proposal
for a college park campus in the 12-B area, featuring an educational
center, with themes that could include urban studies or finance,
and possibly adjacent housing. The buildings would be used by
students attending local colleges - Capital Community College,
the universities of Connecticut and Hartford, Rensselaer at Hartford
and Trinity College. More important, it would bring young energy,
intellectual capital and a new identity to a downtown that desperately
needs all three.
WFSB's pending exit, troubling
as it, shouldn't necessarily signal a "there-they-go-again" chorus
about Hartford politics.
But it should give Perez's people pause to consider what role
they played in this sweet deal turned sour.
Stan Simpson's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays. He can
be heard live this Saturday on WTIC NewsTalk 1080.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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