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Could UConn’s Big East Return Boost XL Center Renovation Case?

XL Center

With UConn set to return to the Big East, state officials hope the move will generate more revenue and bolster the case for private investment in an XL Center renovation.

On Thursday, the Big East announced that UConn–one of its original seven members–is set to return as a full member of the conference. An exact date for UConn’s re-entry into the Big East has not been finalized, but UConn will participate in 20 of the conference’s 22 sports upon its return.

Downtown Hartford’s XL Center is used by UConn for select hockey, and men’s and women’s basketball games. The arena’s aging condition has been at the center of debate in recent years, with major renovations pitched as a solution to modernize the venue while potentially helping to improve its bottom line. However, Connecticut officials have thus far been unwilling to invest hundreds of millions into an overhaul of the facility.

To help cover the cost of any future XL Center renovations, some officials at the state level hope that a private partner could come on board and invest in the project. While it remains to be seen if it emerges as a true selling point, some foresee UConn’s upcoming return to the Big East as a major advantage. With a Big East return will come more regional rivalries and potentially more revenue for the arena’s bottom line, which some officials–including Capital Region Development Authority executive director Michael W. Freimuth–see as one aspect that could bolster the case for private-sector participation in funding renovations. More from the Hartford Courant:

“There’s a value to the Big East being in the building, UConn being in the building, having a bigger attendance, playing into the revenue bottom line, that helps us in the public-private argument,” Freimuth said.

Freimuth said it is a far more attractive package to bring to a private investor when you add the Big East to what the state is willing to fund and a renovation plan that has evolved over three or four years.

“We’re ready to go, and we need some partners,” Freimuth said. “It’s a different argument than, ‘Hey, if we come up with some money, can you help us?’”

Gov. Ned Lamont supports additional bond money for the XL Center as part of a bigger vision to strengthen the state’s cities. Vibrant cities — in Connecticut and across the country — are seen as critical to economic development, attracting and holding on to a talented, innovative workforce.

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. In addition to its hosting duties for UConn basketball and hockey, XL Center is also home to minor-league hockey’s Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL).

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