CANTLON’S CORNER: XL Ctr Looks to Be Sold
BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
HARTFORD, CT – Expect a final decision in the next two weeks that will likely determine the future direction of the state’s two major multi-purpose hockey arenas, The XL Center in Hartford, and Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.
One shoe dropped Wednesday night in Bridgeport.
A bidding process declared that the nationally renowned concert promotion agency, Live Nation in partnership with the local developer Howard Saffan, who was the former president of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, won a bid to convert the baseball stadium to a three-season outdoor concert amphitheater. The building will rival the Meadows/XFINITY facility in Hartford, as a 5.500 seat facility to open in May 2019.
The awarding of the deal to Saffan/Live Nation was ratified by the Bridgeport City Contracts committee board Wednesday night to be sent to the full council to vote to either approve or reject the deal on November 6th, just one day before Election Day.
Thursday morning, an even bigger shoe dropped in the process.
In Hartford, The legislature passed a bipartisan $40 billion budget, but there is only an allocation of $40 million to be bonded (pending bond commission approval) for the XL Center over the next two years to do needed repairs and purchase the atrium.
CRDA Executive Director, Michael Friemuth, was certainly not doing a jig or ringing the church bells either.
“We’re caught in the middle,” Friemuth said. “There is no consensus to shut it down or renovate it either. We’re happy the operating budget was maintained for the building (at $600K) because in the budget previously passed and vetoed by the Governor, (the legislature) had it cut completely and if it had passed, it would be a completely different situation to deal with.
“Now we have two questions before us. We have the $40 million the next two years to do some needed repairs and deal with the Atrium. The larger one is, can we find outside investors by 2019 in helping with the renovation part since there is no appetite in the legislature (to fund) it now.”
The legislative finance committee took the original request of the $125 million half of the publicly stated cost of the project and recommended only $75 million. In one of the failed budgets over the past few months, John Fonfara (D-Hartford), who has the XL Center in his district, had a plan to bond $115 million. That budget went down to defeat when three Democrats defected and sided with a Republican proposal that was vetoed by the governor and was sustained.
Freimuth was under no illusions about the $115 million budget allocation.
“That had no chance of ever passing. Certainly, would have been nice, but I’m a pragmatist about this. You have to be realistic about what you can get given the fiscal dynamics in the state right now. We have fully depreciated equipment in the building, contracts with Spectra, and major tenants, so this is not an easy situation for obvious reasons. The marketplace the XL Center operates in will be changing in the next two years as well. There will be the opening of a new casino and now the amphitheater in Bridgeport.”
Also looming over the head of Freimuth and the XL Center is a provision that if a private investor isn’t found for the current home of UConn Hockey and the Hartford Wolf Pack, the building will be put up For Sale in 2019. It seems it was the polite way to say, “We’re closing the building because nobody will buy a 44-year-old building.” Last year they put out RFP’s for a private investor and received just one response.
Northland Corporation, the owner of Atrium’s title and who has been in a protracted negotiation for almost two years, will now seek more money for the title and deed they hold. Northland could now wait until the building closes to build another building or take a long-term strategic objective Cantlon’s Corner uncovered in the early days, and that was their desire to be the building’s operator.
Now, the current occupants all have expiring contracts. The one ending soonest would be that of the Wolf Pack.
As per the agreement, MSG has to inform the CRDA by December 31st of their intentions regarding the contract.
The two sides have already been in discussions.
“We have been talking the better part of two months and they have expressed their interest to remain in Hartford,”Friemuth said. “Any deal will be short term because that’s what we’re working with right now.”
Friemuth confirmed what Cantlon’s Corner reported two months ago that there is a two-year offer on the table, but he would not confirm the numbers a source stated that would follow the path of the current deal. $1,55 million for 2018 and $1.6 million for 2019 with the check written by Spectra.
Then there is the issue with UConn hockey that has to be sorted out first before any dealing with the basketball teams.
“They clearly need a place to play with no on-campus arena in Storrs. I would say that might be a 2-3 year agreement or year-to-year with options. There are several ways to proceed with it. I think now with the operating budget in place, we can move forward with that piece and the Wolf Pack.”
The ultimate solution for the building though is still nowhere in sight.
“I wish I could say we have something, but we don’t at this point. We’re kind of like the Romans and the Greeks with our Coliseum. Not much has changed. We know the problems and we know what needs to be done and until the fiscal landscape changes, it’s still unresolved. We put a lot of effort in the process. I have learned not to answer my phone after 11 pm anymore that’s for sure,” Freimuth jokingly replied referencing the many late night budget issues that been worked on the past two months.
It seems that we might be leaving a Roman Coliseum in Hartford that future generations will come with backpacks and say, ‘This is where the XL Center once stood,” and where “Hart-City” flatlined.
Cantlon’s Corner will report on a more detailed historical outline of the history of the state’s sports arenas coming soon.