Recommendation On XL Center, Rentschler Field Contracts Could Come Next Week
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN
January 23, 2013
The three management companies that want to run downtown Hartford's XL Center arena are making their pitches privately this week, and one point is getting a good working over: how do you reinvigorate a venue past its prime and set a course for the future when there is no plan for a new arena in sight?
Details of the three proposals to manage the 16,000-seat arena and exhibition hall remain under wraps during this week's interviews with the Capital Region Development Authority. But the authority's executive director said Wednesday the discussions are turning on the mix of events, the frequency of events, how to better pair events and how to finance much-needed capital improvements.
"We're trying to set this up for something longer term," Michael W. Freimuth, the authority's executive director, said.
The future of the AHL in Hartford also is hanging over the discussions, Freimuth said. The contract with The Connecticut Whale expires this year, and its renewal is not a sure thing.
Three entities have submitted bids to manage both the XL Center and the Rentschler Field stadium in East Hartford: AEG Management CT LLC, the current manager of the XL Center; Capital Region Sports and Entertainment Group, led by Bushnell Management Services, which now manages Rentschler Field; and Global Spectrum, based in Philadelphia.
In addition, the University of Connecticut also is in active discussions with the CRDA over its interest in managing Rentschler Field. UConn has a 20-year lease on the stadium for its football program.
The CRDA's board could receive a recommendation from the authority's staff and venue committee as early as next week.
Contracts for both venues expire in August.
The CRDA prefers to have one manager for both venues, but UConn's lease guarantees that the university can participate in discussions with the CRDA before presenting a formal proposal. UConn has not yet made such a proposal, Freimuth said.
Freimuth said it is critical to select managers for the venues quickly because contracts at the XL Center expire this year with UConn men's and women's basketball in addition to The Connecticut Whale. The new managers must renegotiate those contracts.
One thorny issue that is being tackled is how to minimize operating expenses while still building event revenues and maintaining the facility, leaving some for longer-term capital improvements. The scope of capital improvements is not yet clear.
A recent study of the XL Center found that redevelopment could range between $30 million and $90 million, some of which probably would have to be shouldered by taxpayers. But the improvements could end up being far more modest, perhaps including modernized restrooms and locker rooms.
"At the end of the day, there may be the need to go the public well," Freimuth said. "If we are going to go to the public well, can some of the cost be picked up by operations and further private investments?"
One way to attract additional private investment for capital improvements would be to sign a longer-term management contract, Freimuth said. Typically, the management contracts for the venues are three to five years.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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