The XL Center Renovation Plan Officially in State Budget

BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings

HARTFORD, CT The State of Connecticut is facing serious money issues with a $1.7 billion deficit. Governor Dannel Malloy has officially put a proposal to add $250 million for the renovation/upgrade of the XL Center in the budget.

“Obviously, it’s not the best time to ask for money, but the time is now. We have put forth a multi-year plan and the costs and the needs involved as part of a true long-term revitalization plan- this is the best option,” the Executive Director of the CRDA (Capital Regional Development Authority), Mike Freimuth, said. ” No question, this is an uphill struggle with serious budgetary constraints, but we have come to a point to put all the pieces we have worked on for the last four years and coalesce them around this plan and move forward. This is a critical threshold that we have approached. We have about exhausted the amount of patching we can do.”

When asked what it would mean to the future of the building should by the end of the legislative session in June, the money was not approved, Freimuth was blunt.

“If we don’t receive the capital budget request for the XL Center, you will be looking at the building being closed down in about two years, which was the window we gave to keep the building going – six to ten years. We have been doing everything to keep this building in the marketplace, but there is so much that can be done. I really believe we have presented the best option and way to move forward to bringing more vibrant and eventual cost effective XL Center to downtown Hartford for the future.”

Land acquisition and demolition costs have never been publicly stated or what they could be, let alone what they will be. Connecticut is not in a position to bond money as the state has hit its bonding ceiling. Nobody believes the $250 million figures to be the total cost. Many suspect a final price tag to actually be between $600-$700 million. Freimuth feels that’s too high of a figure and it can be worked into the $250 million funding request.

In the last conversation between Cantlon’s Corner and Friemuth, he was asked if part of their state capital budget plan that was unveiled last week had come to pass. The CRDA wants a down payment of $50 million for Year One and then $75 million in Year Two equalling half of the proposed total building portion of the project. The state would then commit to funding the other half. In this economic environment, it’s a risky endeavor, but options are limited.

The CRDA received this thankless portfolio four years ago. Freimuth and the venue committee has had to navigate various hurdles and challenges to keep the XL Center alive just to get this point. There is no way that Freimuth will say anything more than $250 million in public. Why? It would be the kiss of death.

“I think this the most reasonable way to approach this. As I have said in the past, we are negotiating with Northland. We have received their second appraisal and our new appraisal is due back in the next week. I won’t discuss the matter more than this, other than to say, it is a critical part of making this project succeed as envisioned and designed. We have a tight window on this.”

The long overdue plan to replace the aging, desiccated 42-year-old arena’s  floor is about to start. The refrigeration system, piping, all the necessary wiring components, electronics, new dasher boards and plexiglass, price tagged at between $3.5-$4 million – all from bond money previously issued – required that they go back in a special session last year to retrieve from budget cuts.

The tentatively scheduled start date is when the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack season concludes in mid-April unless they somehow manage to make it into the playoffs.

The bid packages are about to go out and should be back in early March, but there are a limited number of companies that do this type of highly specialized type of construction.

The most likely start date for this phase of the renovation would be early May. One major caveat will be the linking up of the new system to the old chiller system but they will design a route for the location of the where the new chiller system would be placed in a renovated XL Center. Put

Why would you put in a new system and link it with the old chillers?

“Budgetary reasons. The costs of new chillers are outside the scope of the present budget for this project. It’s a very important, critical first step, to a new XL Center and we’re looking forward to this as an awful lot of prep work and advanced planning has gone into this. It will start a new foundation to a much better XL Center.”

For Spectra, it is a necessary need for both of the building’s two primary hockey tenants, the Wolf Pack and UConn, both part of a coordinated strategy.

“We are very happy with some of these developments and getting new ice and a floor for hockey will be great,” Chris Lawrence, Spectra GM of the XL Center, said. “We’re part of the supporting arm of this project. We are excited by the enthusiasm of the governor, the mayor, and the CRDA on this. We think the plans for the new building will catapult the XL Center out of the 20th century and into the 21st century.”

The arena has been slated to be shut down for twelve weeks (three months). Experts at other arena management firms believe that it will take four or five months to handle such a project given the size and age of the XL Center.

After taking off the top slab of flooring, the primary concern will be the insulation underneath it. It’s believed to likely be asbestos. How much there is and having it removed and working down to the foundation floor may require some repair work once they get to see it.

Following that, the piping and rewiring will begin, along with setting up connections electrical and wiring. Once all that is done, then the new floor will be poured.

There are two key elements that will need to be dealt with. One is that they will need to allow the new floor to settle for thirty days thoroughly untouched. Then, they will need to deal with the issue of drawing the heat from the new floor out to allow it to properly be cooled and turned into ice.

“There always unknowns with this building as we learned two years ago with the first phase of renovations, so we have to build contingencies into this process. Honestly, we have gotten a lot of help from Spectra on this because everyone has different goals and objectives. We have worked very well I think in incorporating all the interests here.”

The years of labor and man hours to prepare for this moment have been exceptionally high and long over the next six months will clearly decide the final outcome of the XL Center.

Stay tuned.

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