January 11, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
The future of the Hartford Civic Center and the dream of major league hockey again took the boardroom stage Wednesday, as rival corporate teams pitched plans that hoped to both save the state money and feed its starving hockey fans.
On hockey, the plans are varied: One stresses the American Hockey League's long-term viability in Hartford, another stresses the AHL as a building block to the National Hockey League, and a third says the way to go is to buy an NHL team now.
But while much of the big-picture talk focuses on bringing the NHL back to Hartford, leaders of the state agency that will decide the center's immediate fate are still concerned about the $24 million taxpayers stand to lose on the center in the short-term.
"It's not an easy exercise," said L. Scott Frantz, chairman of the board of the Connecticut Development Authority, which leases the center from the city until 2013 and stands to lose $4 million annually. "You really do want to do the right thing. At the same time, we're hemorrhaging all this money."
The bidders making presentations Wednesday included the current operator, Madison Square Garden; a partnership between downtown's largest landowner, Northland Investment Corp., and its new partner, AEG Worldwide of Los Angeles; and a partnership between former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin and Global Spectrum of Philadelphia.
The presentations began with Baldwin's pitch - one that was thick with references to the Whalers' past.
"If your goal is the NHL ... the question is, how best are you going to do it?" Baldwin asked. The answer, he said, is to rebrand and rebuild. If he gets control of the civic center, he'll push to bring back what the city has lost - immediately open an office to market NHL tickets and build a regional sports television network to televise the games, among other things, he said.
Baldwin's team submitted a financial plan that included a minimum $300,000 base management fee that could grow to $500,000, plus an incentive fee of roughly $125,000. In addition, the group would pay $1.1 million up front for capital improvements.
Baldwin and his team want it clear: The NHL could eventually come to Hartford under their plan.
Calling Northland's work in the city "legendary," Frantz next turned the program over to its head - Lawrence R. Gottesdiener - who spoke of his short-term plan for minor league sports and his long-term plan to build a new arena.
Gottesdiener offered a $500,000 up-front capital commitment and two potential financing plans - emphasizing one in which Northland would assume the authority's lease with the city and cover all of its associated costs minus $2.3 million in annual bond debt payments. Northland would also get the $1 million annual payment the authority now gets from the Whalers as an exit fee.
Gottesdiener said he would build an arena to pursue whichever sports option materialized - minor or major league.
Martin Brooks - whose company MSG Connecticut runs the center now - stressed that MSG is a single, proven entity with which the authority could work until 2013.
To make its case, it pointed to the state's consultant, who told the authority two things in a 2006 report: that the civic center is an aging behemoth, and that it is being run responsibly by MSG.
On the numbers, Brooks said MSG was committing to a six-year agreement with no management fee, but in which the company and the state would split profits: of the first $2.5 million, the state would get 60 percent, and they would split all profits evenly thereafter, he said.
Also, MSG is willing to waive roughly $3 million in payments it is owed by the state. Also, should there be an operating loss, MSG would share 40 percent of it, Brooks said.
The authority expects to make a decision in March.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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