House Speaker Says Options Are Refurbish Or Rebuild
March 14, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
House Speaker James A. Amann entered the committee meeting smiling and pumping a fist in the direction of a small contingent of Whalers hockey fans seated in the front row. But when he took to the microphone, he directed his comments not to the quest for a new major league hockey team but to the effort to deal with Hartford's old arena.
"Although I want the Whalers back, with or without the Whalers, we need to address this facility - either to refurbish it or start from scratch and build a new one," Amann said of the Hartford Civic Center. "It's already 32 years old. By the time we're done, it's going to get a lot older."
The effort to build a new sports and entertainment arena in Hartford took a small step forward Tuesday, as a bill to study the matter made its way to a legislative public hearing of the state's commerce committee. Amann spoke, as did Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who backed the state's study, even as a consulting firm he hired performs its own.
Some in the city's legislative delegation have been slow to embrace the idea of a new arena, although they do support the study, Amann said.
"They were unanimous on that," Amann said in an interview. "They said, `Mr. Speaker, that doesn't mean we're committed to the next phase.' And I said, `I realize that. We'll take it one step at a time.'"
In response to comments from the city's delegation, Amann agreed to include a provision in the arena bill to examine whether the state's minority contractor rules meet the standards they set for themselves, and whether they should be overhauled.
"We're taking another look at the state's minority set-aside rules," said state Rep. Art Feltman, D-Hartford, who is running for mayor against Perez. "What we're trying to accomplish is to boost the percentages for blacks and Latinos. And we need the study in order to accomplish that."
Amann said he understood the delegation's point.
"I think many in the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus believe they've been promised a lot on a lot of different [state] developments that haven't really panned out," Amann, D-Milford, said. "Although everybody enjoys going to UConn games and [had enjoyed] Whaler games at the Civic Center, they also feel it doesn't really affect part of their community as much as maybe we would hope it to."
Perez said the minority contracting study is simply another aspect of the overall economic feasibility study that the state will perform. And it's something he supports, he said.
The state's quasipublic Connecticut Development Authority is going through its second round of bidding for proposals on handling the Hartford Civic Center in the short and long terms. The state has a lease on the building from the city until 2013, and loses roughly $4 million a year.
The authority hired a consultant who told it that the arena is in the last stages of its useful life, and it is now considering three bids from businesses that would do everything from tweaking the arena's current operation to knocking it down and building anew.
The city also is undertaking a review of its own, paying a consultant to figure out where best to build a new arena.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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