State Frustrated With $4 Million Annual
Loss From Facility
April 4, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
There are those who see the outdated,
undersized Hartford Civic Center and dream of knocking it down,
building a new arena and filling it with a major league hockey team.
Then there are those who look at the
same center, see the state losing $4 million a year for the next
seven years, and want to find a better way.
The second group won a small victory
Monday, as the state agency that operates the Civic Center selected
a consultant to study whether the state could better manage the
center, while making it clear the bigger questions may be beyond
"There has to be a focus on the
operational effectiveness of the existing facility, because it's
the one thing that we control," said Antonio Roberto, executive
director of the Connecticut Development Authority.
One consensus from all three presenters
Monday, Roberto said, was that the existing facility could not handle
a major league professional sports franchise.
But Philip Smith, undersecretary of
the state's Office of Policy and Management, bluntly told the authority
that question of whether there should be a new sports arena in Hartford
is "not our issue."
Frustrated with the state's roughly
$4 million annual loss on the facility, and spurred on by renewed
interest in bringing a National Hockey League team back to Hartford,
the authority selected Conventions, Sports & Leisure International,
or CSL, of Plano, Texas, to help it through the next few months.
The goal is to have a vision for the
building's immediate future by late summer.
Richard T. Mulready, the board's vice
chairman and chair of its finance committee, put the question simply:
"What is the best thing we can do with this asset?"
As it answers that question, the consultant
will also help the state seek private investors willing to make
Although the Civic Center is owned
by the city of Hartford, the state has a lease on it that runs through
2013. According to the authority, the state could lose $30 million
by the end of the lease.
The state now has a contract with Madison
Square Garden to operate the Civic Center which also goes through
2013. MSG owns the Hartford Wolf Pack, the New York Rangers' American
Hockey League farm team.
Two men have recently floated the idea
of bringing the National Hockey League back to Hartford. Former
Whalers owner Howard Baldwin has offered to take over thelease with
the city, do capital improvements on the building, and attempt to
bring back major league hockey should a new American Hockey League
Lawrence R. Gottesdiener, head of Northland
Investment Corp., developer of the Hartford 21 luxury residential
tower at the Civic Center, has proposed building a $250 million
sports and entertainment arena in the city, with $25 million of
his own money and the rest as public financing. He would try to
bring an NHL team, as well.
Gottesdiener's company also has first
right of refusal on the Civic Center should the city choose to sell
Bill Rhoda, CSL's principal, has worked
on projects including a new NFL stadium for the Arizona Cardinals,
an analysis of a new facility to replace the Kemper Arena/Sprint
Center in Kansas City, Mo., and the development of the Pepsi Center
Rhoda's partner, Russ Simons, is a
Berlin native and a principal at HOK - primarily an architectural
firm. But Simons' expertise is in venue operations.
"Our group is specifically designed
for facility assessment," Simons said. "Our focus is to
benchmark the facility in its current position."
"When it first opened, the mall
was an exciting destination," Simons said of the Civic Center.
"As I drove around it yesterday and I had a look at it yesterday,
speaking frankly, I was a little disappointed because the enthusiasm
I remember as a boy didn't appear to be present."
Simons said it was too soon to know
whether the building could be renovated.
The authority chose CSL and HOK over
proposals from Brailsford & Dunlavey of Washington, D.C., and
Barrett Sports Group of California.
At the end of the meeting, Smith misspoke
when he made the motion to select CSL. He called the company CSI,
like the television show.
"CSI?" said Mulready, to
laughter. "All they would do is an autopsy."
"Well, Mr. Chairman," Smith
responded. "There are those who would argue that that is what
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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