Fresh off NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament action that boosted economic activity in Hartford, proponents are bolstering their case for an XL Center renovation.
On Thursday and Saturday of last week, the XL Center hosted early round action in the ongoing 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The contests generated large crowds that reportedly exposed some of the aging’s facility shortcomings–such as access/egress issues–but also gave an economic boost to the area, including surrounding downtown Hartford businesses as well as hotels in the Hartford region.
In light of the event, proponents of a potential XL Center renovation–including Hartford mayor Luke Bronin–are making the case for Connecticut lawmakers to approve $100 million for a proposed overhaul. The argument is that by modernizing the arena, Hartford will be able to more frequently draw large events that produce positive economic returns. However, past efforts to renovate the arena failed to garner enough support among Connecticut legislators, and the latest plan faces uncertainty with the state reluctant to take on more debt. More from the Hartford Courant:
Bronin said the tournament showed better than what any words could say why modernizing the arena would be a good investment for the state.
“Either we have the chance to make that arena competitive again and see our city full of people and vibrant and strong as it was last week or we see the heart of our capital city occupied by an empty rusting shell of steel and concrete,” he said.
The debate over the future of the XL Center arena — either a slow decline to closing or a renovation — is expected to come to head in the state legislature this year. A previous $250 million renovation proposal, which included the addition of a second concourse, failed to gain traction among lawmakers as the state faced a spiraling budget deficit.
Gov. Ned Lamont has signaled support for the XL Center but has stopped short of backing the $100 million proposal, spread out over several years. The proposal would require borrowing through the sale of bonds, and Lamont came into office in January saying the state must go on a “debt diet” to rein in runaway borrowing in the recent past.
XL Center originally opened in 1975, and is perhaps best known as the former home of the NHL’s Hartford Whalers, but it has remained an active venue for sports and other events since that franchise relocated to North Carolina in 1997. It is currently the home of hockey’s Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL), and hosts events for UConn athletics.
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