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Gone, But Not Forgotten

Ex-Gov. Rowland Played Vital Role In Convention Center Becoming A Reality, But Don't Expect His Praises To Be Sung

May 29, 2005
By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer

If John Grosvenor Rowland had died a mortal death instead of a political one, it's a fair bet that the new Connecticut Convention Center, or some part of it perhaps, would bear his name.

Instead, when the new convention center opens this week, the disgraced ex-governor will still be in residence at the Loretto Federal Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania. And many people closest to the project are wondering whether they dare utter his name in public.

The task of building a convention center in Hartford has been a two-decade odyssey under four governors, a journey bedeviled by political hackdom and turf battles between the Capitol and city hall. Without Rowland, the convention center would never have come to a successful conclusion, many close to the project say.

When the New England Patriots jilted Rowland in 1999 and reneged on plans for a stadium in Hartford, the governor used his political capital to get a reluctant legislature to keep Adriaen's Landing alive, even lobbying individual members of the Hartford City Council to support it.

Rowland had little to do with the details of the $271 million center, once design and construction began. What he did was force a group of players with very different motivations, whose efforts needed to be aligned, to work as a team and to keep the project moving.

When problems cropped up, Rowland convened a meeting in his office that participants called "the A-Team." At various times, the group included developers fueled by ego or money, and an alphabet soup of state bureaucracies with very different motivations. What the A-Team meetings did, several former participants said, was force each person to account, face to face, to a then-powerful governor for their progress.

Dean Pagani, Rowland's former chief of staff, attended many of those meetings. Now an official with the Capital City Economic Development Authority, Pagani said it was an odd feeling to assemble a guest list for the convention center grand opening that did not include Rowland.

Rowland, Pagani said, will be well aware of what is happening that day.

"I remember one day [with Rowland], counting the votes in the Senate in terms of thinking ahead to an impeachment trial," Pagani said.

"I said, `I can't believe we're doing this.' He said, `Neither can I. And what really bothers me is that this is what people are going to remember and not all the good stuff.'

"He'll definitely be thinking about the convention center and the grand opening; it's something he's thinking about all the time. He believes he built a good record as governor. And his mistakes - if I can use that term - have really sullied that record. I imagine it's something he's going to live with for the rest of his life. The irony will not be lost on him that day. Nor will it be lost on the people who are going to be there [at the opening ceremony]."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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