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OP-ED | Get Your Money’s Worth on Hartford’s Front Street

by Heath W. Fahle | Sep 28, 2012 4:07pm
(3) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion, Hartford, Convention Center

Hartford’s troubled Front Street project got good news this week when Gov. Dannel Malloy announced $1.3 million in state funding to bring Infinity Hall, a live music venue, to the site. After more than a decade of problems this is welcome on Front Street. For the state’s taxpayers though, it is just the latest chapter in a saga of crony capitalism.

Named for the Italian neighborhood once located nearby, Front Street was conceived as a retail, commercial, and residential hub at the center of the Adriaen’s Landing development. Taxpayers provided $500 million of the $770 million it took to complete the project, which included the Connecticut Science Center, the Convention Center, and the Hartford Marriott Downtown.

Front Street lagged behind though, cycling through three different developers, two governors, and countless other headaches just to get started. It was broken into two phases, with the restaurant/entertainment component in Phase I and the residential/retail aspects to follow in Phase II. The state paid $10 million of the $30 million it took to complete Phase I construction. State officials approved a bond request in June for $1.5 million associated with Phase II.

The Governor’s announcement means that taxpayers, having already paid to construct the building as well as the whole neighborhood around it, are now paying businesses to set up shop there.

The state now just needs to pay customers to patronize the businesses there, too. The circle will be complete.

Whether you call it crony capitalism or corporate welfare, this isn’t the capitalism you read about in school. As one scholar recently noted, “[crony capitalism] misdirects resources, impedes genuine economic progress, breeds corruption, and undermines the legitimacy of both the government and the private sector.”

Yet crony capitalism cuts across party and ideological lines. Earlier this year, for example, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley negotiated a $158 million deal to bring airplane manufacturer Airbus to his state. This is from the same Governor who recently pledged to cut $1 billion from his state budget.

In Connecticut’s case, crony capitalism is Gov. Malloy’s principal economic development strategy. In less than two years, he has doled out more than $315 million in taxpayer-funded promises to Cigna, ESPN, and others.

These politicians seem to forget that their economic development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Successful, taxpaying entrepreneurs are forced to subsidize their competitors.

On Front Street, this banner is most prominently carried by the Arch Street Tavern, a pub owned by Jerry Collins since 1977. It is known for its live music and fun atmosphere, especially on Monday nights when they have live big-band music.

Music and atmosphere, however, are the very attributes trumpeted by Infinity Hall, the taxpayer-subsidized competitor that will set up shop barely a block away. Having somehow survived more than a decade of construction that made it difficult for customers to make it inside, Mr. Collins’ pub must face this new challenge.

Were this situation the byproduct of entrepreneurship and competition, it might be desirable. When it is the result of politicians choosing winners and losers, it moves us backward as a society, not forward.

It also gets in the way of real economic development. Instead of focusing on things that would benefit everyone, like reducing the tax burden, driving down the cost of energy, or fixing the state’s infrastructure needs, wheelbarrows of cash gloss over the economic landscape’s structural weaknesses.

But hiding those weaknesses does not make them go away. It allows them to get worse.

Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com.


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(3) Comments

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | September 29, 2012  2:24pm

GoatBoyPHD

What it is, is Hartford Regional cronyism and front Street goes along with their grotesque education dollars, their concentration of social services dollars, theri amss transit dollars,  and the New Britain Highway.

It’s an agrument for restoring the CT Senate tbased on geography so that more rural counties like Litchfield are better represented in the funding wars.

We exist to be taxed for the Hartford Regiona at the state level and Tennessee at the Federal level. Maybe if we had a solid UTC presence out here we could celebrate each and every miltary contract.

We lack the checks and balances to keep the urban areas from colluding to allocate money to themselves to misspend in every way manageable (and unimaginable).

I;m stillw aiting for the announcment of a $300 millon bonding project for Litchfield County. Bwaa Haa Haa Haa.

Maybe if Amtrak does the highspeed rail route through Danbury and Waterbury .... the Naugatuck Line will be rebuilt…..

posted by: Lawrence | September 29, 2012  3:15pm

Yes,keep telling your GOP brethren to criticize Malloy as “anti-business,” and then be sure to criticize him—“crony capitalism,” “picking winners and losers,” blah blah— when he takes steps to help business stay and grow in CT.

That’s the GOP strategy, right? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

Real economic development occurs when you cut taxes for the wealthy? Sorry, that has been disproven. They just take their winnings and buy bigger yachts (YACHT BUILDERS NEED LOVE TOO!)

Invest more in infrastructure? That’s being done every month at State Bond Commission meetings—you know, the meetings where Republician legislators rail against “putting our children in debt,” etc. etc.??

Driving down the cost of energy—like, having a state-owned power company and distribution network, like the fine job CL&P has been doing over the past year? Isn’t that the role of the glorious and magical private sector—to provide cheaper electricity, and still make a profit?

You note economic development doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and then criticize state government for participating in the cutthroat game that THE PRIVATE SECTOR invented to pit taxpayers against shareholders. Privatize the profits, socialize the losses, right? The GOP businessman’s mantra? And now you are surprised, are complaining?

I’m really looking forward to next week’s column about how Mitt Romney can STILL win Connecticut, Part II.

posted by: Todd Peterson | September 29, 2012  9:52pm

I am a huge fan and supporter of the current Infinity Hall in Norfolk.  Unfortunately this new arrangement isn’t one that brings a smile to my face.  I’ll certainly be interested in further details about this deal.  The original Infinity came into being and contines to thrive in a more “organic” fashion.  Infinity II isn’t starting out that way.  Color me skeptical as well…