After several months of delays, USL Championship expansion squad Hartford Athletic is set to begin play at a newly renovated Dillon Stadium in Hartford on July 13.
Initially the team was to begin play at the new facility for their first home games in May, but construction delays forced the club to play their inaugural games at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, home of the UConn Huskies.
Dillon Stadium has an interesting history. Built in 1935, it hosted concerts by the Rolling Stones in 1966 and The Grateful Dead and Kiss in the 1970s. It was also home to two minor league football teams in the 1960s and 1970s, while hosting an international soccer friendly between the US and Bermuda in 1973. It has hosted international rugby on several occasions, including a 1982 game in which England beat the US 59-0. The stadium had fallen into severe disrepair in recent years, used mostly for high-school football and partially overgrown.
This renovation was initially billed as a $10-million project, but because of complications with the site, came in at an estimated $14 million. The added costs were primarily due to issues with the foundation under the stands, which had to be shored up with additional engineering and construction. There were other complications, including a pitch that had settled below grade by nearly a foot at one end.
The project was financed by both public and private sources, with $10 million approved by the Connecticut State Bond Commission, and the remaining coming from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving ($1.2 million), the state Department of Economic and Community Development ($800,000), and from Hartford Athletic ($1.5 million). The club is owned by the Hartford Sports Group.
According to the Hartford Courant, the pitch will be unique for its use of FieldTurf featuring “an organic infill (made of a mixture of silica, coconut husks and cork) and a shock pad, which makes it ‘safer and cooler’ than the traditional turf field across professional soccer.”
It is also hoped the project will revitalize the neighborhood. Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin told NBC Connecticut, “To have Dillon Stadium as a center of energy and activity down next to the historic Colt complex and that neighborhood that is growing rapidly–it’s a really exciting thing for the city.”
Hartford is showing its support for professional soccer in the early going with strong attendance at the games at Rentschler Field. Athletic are drawing over 5,900 fans per game this season–including attendance of over 11,000 for their inaugural game. The renovated Dillon Stadium will seat 5,500 on opening, but can be expanded to 10,000 in the future to meet demand.
The inaugural match in the new facility will see Hartford Athletic take on Indy Eleven. The match signals a new era for soccer, and for professional sports, in the city of Hartford.
Dillon Stadium rendering courtesy Hartford Athletic.