As measured in local enthusiasm, Dunkin’ Donuts Park has been a rousing success for the city of Hartford. As measured in job opportunities for local residents, though, the results have been murkier.
More than 415 people worked at Dunkin’ Donuts Park at some point last year (about 300 on any given gameday), according to a Yard Goats spokesman, and the team fulfilled its contractual obligation to hire Hartford residents for at least 50 percent of all hours. Those 415 employees included concession workers, security, ushers and parking attendants, in addition to front-office executives.
Jobs created by the ballpark were never presented as a chief justification for the taxpayer-funded development. But of the several hundred positions at the park, only about 40 are full-time team jobs, few of which are filled by Hartford residents. The vast majority of locals who work at the stadium do so in roles that are part-time and often low-paying. Because the Yard Goats’ season lasts only five months of the year and the team spends half that time on the road, many employees can count on only 15-20 hours a week, exclusively during the summer. More senior workers receive as many as 30 hours a week during baseball season but are left to seek other work each winter.
City officials have always viewed Dunkin’ Donuts Park as the centerpiece of a broader Downtown North development project that would create more jobs than a stadium alone ever could. That larger project — a $200 million mixed-use development consisting of housing, retail and community space and parking garages — was stalled in court for three years until recently. Work could begin on the first phase by the end of the year, the developer says.
Still, three years into the Yard Goats’ tenure at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, some observers have been left to wonder: What has the $72 million ballpark meant for Hartford workers, and how might it come to mean more?
In a 2014 study commissioned by the Hartford city council, UConn economist Fred Carstensen forecast that while the broader Downtown North development would create around 1,000 permanent jobs, a baseball stadium would generate only about 80, not counting positions that would essentially be transplanted from New Britain (where the Yard Goats, then known as the Rock Cats, had previously played).
Today, Carstensen says it would be “crazy” to argue that level of job creation justifies the ballpark’s $72 million price tag. Not only is the quantity low, he notes, but so is the quality. High-paying jobs mean more spending power for those who hold them, which means more money in the local economy. Low-paying jobs, like many of those at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, can leave employees relying on food stamps and other public programs.
If a city hopes to maximize the economic power of its ballpark, Carstensen says, “It’s quite important that the jobs be well-paid.”
Yard Goats human resources manager Thulani LeGrier
Carstensen notes that publicly funded stadiums rarely, if ever, pay for themselves in a strict economic sense but says a venue such as Dunkin’ Donuts Park can become a useful amenity for its community — if officials are purposeful about including locals.
“If you want this to benefit the neighborhood, you’re going to have to put in place special requirements to do so,” Carstensen said. “And it’s not just requiring that they find people in the neighborhood. You have to have some outreach efforts, you have to have some ways that you’re going to get in touch with these people, make them aware of what the opportunities are and what their obligations are.”
The Yard Goats’ lease with the city of Hartford (negotiated under former mayor Pedro Segarra) requires the team to hire Hartford residents for 50 percent of all hours worked at the stadium, as monitored by the city’s finance department. Mayor Luke Bronin says he has been satisfied with the team’s commitment to local hiring.
“I’d love to see every job there filled with Hartford residents,” Bronin said. “But I have been pleased every time I’m at the park to see a large number of Hartford residents working.”
As for the quality of jobs at the stadium, “It’s absolutely true that most of the jobs at a baseball park are by nature part-time,” Bronin said, “but I think for many residents they’re an important source of income or supplementary income.”
Yard Goats president Tim Restall said job applicants from Hartford don’t receive special preference in hiring but that the team works to comply with the residency requirement. Many employees at Dunkin Donuts Park wear not only their name on their badges but also their hometowns, which Restall says builds a heightened sense of community.
“It shows a representation from all around the area,” Restall said. “A lot of people use it as a talking point. It shows that we’re in the community, and a lot of employees enjoy it because they represent the town they’re from.”
Restall said the team does not track how many full-time front-office positions are currently filled by Hartford residents. Human resources manager Thulani LeGrier, a Hartford native who recently returned home to work for the team, acknowledged that the Yard Goats have few city residents in those positions but said they are committed to changing that.
“I know what it’s like to be a young person in Hartford looking for things to do, things to believe in and things to be a part of,” LeGrier said. “There is a genuine commitment from our leadership to do the things we need to do over time to change the composition of [the team’s] workforce.”
The Yard Goats host several job development programs, including two that are aimed at college students from across the country and one specifically geared toward Hartford residents. The latter, run in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford, provides after-school tutoring and mentorship for local students and funnels recent high-school graduates toward the team’s seasonal workforce.
LeGrier said the team hopes its programs will help improve diversity in the sports industry and increase the team’s impact in its home city.
“We want to see a different representation within the sports management field,” LeGrier said. “We believe that begins with cultivating talent early. Finding those types of individuals have interest in a career in sports management and then giving them the exposure and the experience to build those foundational skills.”
Good for some, tough for others
For some Hartford residents, the available work at Dunkin’ Donuts Park has been perfect. Consider Alexis Perez, a retired state police officer who took a security job as a favor to an old boss and stuck around because he enjoyed the gig. Now director of security, Perez says the inconsistent hours and seasonal nature of the gig aren’t a problem. Working at the park, he says, has been “absolutely phenomenal.”
“[The ballpark] has been a huge success,” Perez said. “I think it’s exceeded everyone’s expectations for what the park has done for Hartford.”
But for other locals, such as Frog Hollow resident Wilfredo Molina, the jobs have proven insufficient. Molina, who is married with children, spent two years as a line cook at Dunkin Donuts Park, running several concessions stands. Though he liked the job, he butted heads with superiors on issues including his salary, which he says was about $11 an hour. This spring, he wasn’t hired back, and nor were several family members who had worked alongside him.
Hartford city councilman Larry Deutsch
Molina says the sub-contractor that employed him and his family members, Professional Sports Catering, offered no reason for declining to hire them again, but he wonders if the decision was related to their request for higher pay.
“We were doing a good job and we asked for a raise,” Molina said. “And they didn’t want to give a raise.”
Molina’s daughter, Yahaira Marie Molina, who also worked in concessions, said she made a $10.10 minimum wage at the park. After not being hired back this season, she remains unemployed. Professional Sports Catering said in a statement that it “can’t share information about individual personnel matters.”
At first glance, minimum-wage salaries at Dunkin’ Donuts Park would seem to violate a Hartford ordinance requiring all employees of city-funded developments be paid a “living wage.” But that ordinance has been interpreted to apply only to full-time staffers, leaving concessions, security and parking employees, among others, to work unsteady hours for less than what experts consider a living wage in Hartford County ($12.33 for a single adult with no children, per MIT research).
Wilfredo Molina estimates that 75 percent of people he worked with at the stadium also held second jobs, even during baseball season.
Debate over Dunkin’ Donuts Park jobs began before the park was built, when city officials, including city councilman Larry Deutsch, voiced concern about the wages and hours of stadium positions. Asked recently how the ballpark could better benefit local residents, Deutsch once again cited hourly pay.
“The first and simplest thing, they would be praised if they immediately jumped up to $13, $14, $15 an hour,” Deutsch said. “As the stadium is seen to be a good thing and hopefully will contribute to nearby development, at the very minimum the businesses within it would look good to pay workers more than the bare minimum.”
Dean Jones, a Hartford youth advocate and director of the director COMPASS Peacebuilders, said he knows plenty of people who work at the stadium and has been happy with its impact. But he noted that jobs at the ballpark seem tailored for young people seeking summer gigs or retirees looking to stay active.
“If you’re a college student or a high school student or a recent high school student who wants to get their feet wet, get a job, seasonal, working on some of your skills, this is a job for you,” Jones said. ““If you’re looking for benefits and things like that, it’s not that.”
Alex Putterman can be reached at [email protected].
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