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Major Markets, Major Arena Issues

XL Center

Currently, there are several major markets in the United States that are served by aging arenas. Although these venues remain functional for events, they are behind their competitors in many areas, making them consistent subjects of speculation over major renovation or replacements.

With those situations in mind, we are profiling major markets with outdated arenas. This includes markets within the top 50 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the United States per 2018 population estimates, where renovating an existing arena or building a new venue has discussed in recent years. Markets with long-term solutions in the works—such as Seattle and Austin—are not included in this list.

A few of those markets have solved other facility challenges for major sports but have not addressed their arena situations. The number of new arena construction projects in recent years, along with renovations to existing NBA and NHL arenas, leave most high-profile markets off the list, but the cities listed here are notable in their own ways.

San Diego
MSA—San Diego-Carlsbad (3,343,364 #17)

Pechanga Arena can still draw crowds for events—the success of the AHL’s Gulls being one example—but its future has been the subject of debate in recent years. Having opened in 1966, the venue is not up to the standards of modern facilities, and some undoubtedly dream of the prospect of a San Diego NBA and/or NHL franchise playing in a new downtown arena. Furthermore, a plan from the city calls for extensively redeveloping the area around the arena to support new housing, commercial development, and recreation space, but does not specify what will become of the facility. Regardless, any plan for a new or renovated arena would likely have to be backed by substantial private investment, as San Diego’s unwillingness to fund a new NFL stadium for the Chargers could carry over to any conversations about an arena.

Baltimore
MSA—Baltimore-Columbia-Towson (2,802,789 #21)

Despite being widely regarded as out of date, Royal Farms Arena remains Baltimore’s primary venue for indoor sports and large shows. Over the years, there has been occasional chatter about building a new arena elsewhere in downtown Baltimore, including a few discussions about incorporating it into a renovation of the nearby convention center, but none have resulted in a replacement. Any efforts focused on building a new arena also seem to have been pushed to the back burner politically, with the futures of the city’s convention center and Pimlico Race Course—home to the annual Preakness Stakes—being the more pressing debates in the near term. Currently, the Arena Football League’s Baltimore Brigade is the only full-time sports tenant at Royal Farms Arena, though it does still draw major touring acts. (The photo above was taken in 2015, when indoor soccer’s Baltimore Blast still played at Royal Farms Arena.)

Cincinnati
MSA—Cincinnati metropolitan area (2,190,209 #29)

U.S. Bank Arena has served the city for decades, but it has not received major improvements since a 1997 renovation. Its aging condition—combined with more modern venues in Cleveland and Columbus—have been cited as a disadvantage in recent years, especially after the city lost its bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention to Cleveland. In 2017, Nederalander Entertainment floated a proposal that called for knocking U.S. Bank Arena down to its existing pad and rebuilding on the site, with financing come through a public-private partnership. However, plans for a replacement or major renovation have failed to gain traction, and any effort would likely require substantial private sector investment. Hamilton County has distanced itself from sports facility construction since voters approved funding for new venues for the NFL’s Bengals and MLB’s Reds in 1996, and plans to allocate public funding into infrastructure for a new privately financed stadium for MLS’s FC Cincinnati prompted plenty of debate before receiving city and county approvals.  

Hampton Roads
MSA—Virginia Beach–Norfolk–Newport News (1,728,733 #37)

Despite a considerable amount of debate in recent years, no plans for a new arena within Hampton Roads have come to fruition. Virginia Beach spent several years in talks with a developer about building a new arena, only for those plans to fall through when the city ended discussions in November 2017 because of concerns about whether the developer had obtained financing. Norfolk, meanwhile, has not made a decision on its aging downtown venue, Scope Arena. Oak View Group was tapped to conduct a study on the facility in 2017 to explore the feasibility of a major renovation, but the city seems to have more recently shifted its focus toward the potential construction of a new arena. Scope opened in 1971, with nearby Hampton Coliseum arriving on the scene two years earlier.

Richmond
MSA—Greater Richmond Region (1,306,172 #44)

The aging Richmond Coliseum—which originally opened in 1971has been eyed for a replacement for years, but no plans have come to fruition thus far. There is a proposal in the works, however, as NH District Corp–a group led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II–has zeroed in on a roughly 10-block area north of Richmond’s Broad Street for a redevelopment that would feature several amenities, including a new 17,500-seat arena to replace the Coliseum. Although Richmond mayor Levar Stoney has endorsed the plan publicly, he has not turned the proposal—which calls for tax-increment financing—over to the city council for its consideration.

Hartford

MSA—Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford (1,206,300 #48)

Downtown Hartford’s XL Center maintains a busy events schedule, but there have been plenty of calls in recent years for a major renovation. The issue, however, has proven to be cost, with Connecticut officials not sold on the prospect of pouring hundreds of millions into an overhaul of the facility. Last month, governor Ned Lamont threw his support behind investing as much as $30 million to complete upgrades at XL Center, but stressed that a plan has not been reached for funding a more extensive renovation. A public-private financing model is expected to be one that Lamont and other officials pursue for a major renovation, but it remains to be seen whether any plans will be finalized.

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