Five Bid To Manage/Remake XL Center, Rentschler Field
By GREG BORDONARO
November 12, 2012
Five companies have submitted letters of interest to take over management of the XL Center and Rentschler Field, setting the stage for an intense fight among local, regional and national players over control of two key Greater Hartford assets.
Companies had until Nov. 2 to submit letters of interest to the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA), which recently put out to bid contracts to manage both facilities beginning in 2013.
For the first time, the XL Center and Rentschler Field are being packaged together, as CRDA looks to consolidate management of both facilities to one organization.
Also for the first time, the RFP is asking interested parties to submit plans for the renovation, redevelopment and replacement, or possible privatization of the XL Center.
It's the first indication that CRDA, the state, and city of Hartford may consider selling off ownership of the XL Center to a private entity, raising the stakes of the RFP even further.
Anthony Lazzaro, the deputy director of CRDA, said five firms submitted letters of interest including AEG Management CT, which currently manages the XL Center.
Bushnell Management Services LLC, which currently manages Rentschler Field, also submitted a letter of interest, but is teaming up with several major Greater Hartford businessmen to create a larger entity with deeper resources. That company, called The Capital Region Sports and Entertainment Group LLC, includes downtown parking tycoon Alan Lazowski; Paul Pendergast, who is the former president of the St. Francis Hospital foundation and newly hired chief development officer of the Back9Network; James Carter, owner of Carter Realty; former Hartford Whaler Bobby Crawford, who is the CEO of Champions Skating Centers in Cromwell; Eric Zachs, a managing partner of private equity firm Bantry Bay Ventures; and Peter Stevens, the president of JCJ Architecture in Hartford.
he Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment group, which runs the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, also submitted a letter of interest.
They were joined by national companies Global Spectrum and SMG. Global Spectrum and SMG are both Philadelphia-based companies that have submitted bids in the past to run XL Center.
Lazzaro said it was not mandatory for companies to submit letters of interest, and even more players could emerge as possible candidates to take over management of the sports and entertainment venues.
But they will likely have to act quickly.
On Wednesday, there is a key pre-bid informational meeting scheduled, and it would be difficult for any companies not at that meeting to get involved in the process after that, though it is still possible.
The deadline for the RFP is Dec. 17 and CRDA said it hopes to choose a firm by January so it can move forward quickly on deciding XL Center's future.
The bid to takeover Rentschler Field and XL Center comes at a significant time for the future of economic development in Hartford and represents one of the first major tests for CRDA, which was established earlier this year by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to better coordinate regional development.
The two sports and entertainment venues are seen as key cogs in stirring more commercial activity for the Capital City. While they have hosted more events lately, economic development officials believe they are under-utilized assets. The next operators of the facilities will be charged with changing that.
The 49-page RFP recently published by CRDA stresses the desire to consolidate management of Rentschler Field and XL Center to one company in an effort to better coordinate marketing of the facilities and reduce overhead costs. The managerial and operational responsibilities include facility management, event scheduling and booking, catering and concession services, facility and event promotion, marketing and sponsorships, box office operations, and building and event security, among other things.
The last time management for the XL Center went out to bid was in 2007, when AEG and Northland Investment Corp. wrestled away control of the property from MSG, which owns the Connecticut Whale.
Northland eventually bowed out of its responsibilities, leaving AEG in sole control.
Bushnell Management Services took over control of Rentschler Field in fiscal 2011, after the state decided to re-bid the contract three years into a five-year deal. AEG and Northland were running the venue prior to Bushnell.
The major twist to the current RFP is that CRDA is asking bidders to submit long-term plans for the XL Center including visions of possible renovation, redevelopment and/or replacement of the arena. The RFP also asks bidders to consider the potential privatization of the XL Center.
Currently, the XL Center is owned by the city of Hartford and leased to Connecticut Innovations, a quasi public state agency.
Lazzaro said potential privatization of the arena is more of a long-term consideration, but it represents one of the first times the idea has been floated. It doesn't necessarily mean it will happen though.
"We are trying to get companies to think outside the box and come up with interesting proposals," Lazzaro said.
In the short-term, however, the aging XL Center is need of a facelift.
The building is 37-years old and many officials agree on the need for a more modern facility in downtown Hartford to host UConn basketball, the Connecticut Whale, and other sporting and entertainment events.
Just what type of investment should be made has been up for major debate.
Howard Baldwin pitched an ambitious $105 million renovation plan of XL Center in 2011, but it got little public support. And according to a study recently published by Texas consultancy group Conventions, Sports, & Leisure International (CSLI), Baldwin's plan, which included major seat renovations and relocations, may not have been feasible given the size and geometry of the XL Center.
CSLI, which published an XL Center assessment in August, also outlined three possible renovation plans for the arena at varying costs. Each plan builds off the other, and adds extra potential renovations and costs.
The ideas pitched included:
• A $30 million proposal to replace major mechanical systems; upgrade and/or expand concessions, team locker rooms, sound systems and Director's and Coliseum Club seating; and improve the main concourse through better signage and lighting.
• A $60 million plan that would include moving suites to a mid-level location and making room for loge-level boxes; replace all seats in the arena; add additional restrooms; and install a fascia ribbon board.
• A $90 million plan that would expand the main upper and lower concourses and the four main street level entries; replace the main scoreboard; and develop retail and restaurant space on the street level.
The CRDA is charged with coming up with a solution to the future of XL Center, and while there is no indication which direction they may be headed, most officials foresee some type of private-public partnership to make it happen.