Russo Takes Aim At Empty Storefronts Near XL Center
By GREG BORDONARO
February 25, 2013
One of the keys to driving more attendance to the XL Center will be adding pre- and post-event activities in or near the arena to make downtown Hartford more of an entertainment destination.
That is one of the strategies that Frank Russo Jr., Global Spectrum's business development chief, said he hopes to implement when his firm takes over management reins of the XL Center and Rentschler Field in September.
Russo said he hopes part of the $2.75 million in capital funds Global Spectrum has promised to invest in the XL Center early on, will go toward developing empty storefronts that have hugged the XL Center for years, most notably on Trumbull Street.
Getting tenants into those spaces, even if they are temporary residents, to offer food and beverages and activities that attract children and parents, can serve as a powerful promotional tool, Russo said.
It's a concept not totally unfamiliar to Global Spectrum, which recently launched its own development division that works with venues to develop retail, bar and restaurant projects.
That division, which is a partnership with Maryland development firm Cordish Cos., recently completed a 60,000-square-foot dining and entertainment complex in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex called XFINITY Live.
"If the mall space within the XL Center becomes available, we would be interested in developing a live concept there," Russo said.
But achieving that goal is complicated because much of the mall area outside XL Center is controlled by Northland Investment Corp. City and state officials have had a difficult time getting on the same page with Northland in recent years.
The Massachusetts-based development firm was once seen as the driving force behind a Capital City renaissance, but has since fallen out of favor with many government and business officials after losing three of its major downtown Hartford office buildings to foreclosure in recent years.
Northland has also been known to be stringent on rental rates, even though retail vacancies in downtown have been high for years.
Russo said his firm has not yet made contact with Northland and won't do so until their contract to run the XL Center and Rentschler field is finalized.
Still, Russo said he is hopeful some type of agreement on a strategy can be reached between the two sides.
A Northland official did not respond to a request for comment.
As Russo observed the empty storefronts at the XL Center in recent weeks, he said getting those spaces filled will be a priority.
And, even if they don't get full-time tenants in the short run, Russo said he would like to fill the space temporarily with decorations, trade shows, or other activities for people attending events.
A much larger prototype of the possibilities in Hartford can be seen through the XFINITY Live venue in Philadelphia, Russo said.
The 60,000-square-foot dining and entertainment complex is actually a standalone venue within the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, and is within walking distance of the Wells Fargo Center, Citizens Bank Park, and Lincoln Financial Field, the homes of the Philadelphia Flyers, Phillies and Eagles, respectively.
Besides an array of bars and restaurants, XFINITY Live is centered on a theater with a 24-foot-wide video board that shows sports and family friendly movies. There is also an outdoor miniature artificial turf field that hosts numerous activities and free concerts.