Public weighs in on $250 million XL Center renovation

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HARTFORD--The Capital Region Development Authority is pushing for a plan to expand and renovate the XL Center. A public hearing on the plan was held Tuesday night, and the public turned out to voice their opinions.

The CRDA is hoping to ensure the facility’s long-term sustainability by modernizing the center so it can be more competitive.

Gov. Dan Malloy spoke on the topic early Tuesday, saying, "We're trying to figure out if there's a way, and we think there is, to modernize that facility and meet the needs of the state and of the community and region at a cost effective price that's financed over a number of years.

A 2015 study by SCI Architects said that at least 100,000 square feet of additional space is necessary to bring the XL Center up to modern venue standards, improve circulation, meet certain ADA and building code requirements and enhance the overall fan experience. SCI also concluded that there is space available to meet these needs in the large atrium, unused retail space and a portion of the parking garage located adjacent to the XL Center.

The improvements would cost the state around $250 million.

Many at the meeting Tuesday night were concerned that the state cannot afford the project, though some were excited at the prospect of the final product.

CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth said the renovation plan is the option that makes the most sense. He said other options include demolishing the facility, building a new center at $500 million, or continuing to pump money into the aging existing facility.

Since 2012, the CRDA has invested nearly $40 million in the building to modernize mechanical systems, repair the ice-making system, upgrade elevators and security systems, improve concessions facilities, construct new premium seating and improve accessibility and circulation.

"As the venue for UConn basketball and hockey, the Hartford Wolf Pack, and concerts and other events throughout the year, the XL Center is a critical asset for the state of Connecticut and a vital part of our Capital City's downtown,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin in a statement to FOX 61.

“We strongly support efforts to modernize the XL Center so that it can compete with similar venues around New England and around the country," he wrote.

It’s a hard sell to state lawmakers who have had to make difficult cuts elsewhere as Connecticut faces a $1.3 billion budget deficit.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me. I think the priorities of this administration are definitely off,” said Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown.

During the public hearing Tuesday, Republican Senator Joe Markley voiced his concerns.

"I think a dead zone in the heart of the city, 9 to 5. What traffic it brings in it brings in after dark and I think most of that traffic is into the building and back out of the building without much contact with the rest of the city," Markley said at the meeting Tuesday.

“The first concern is we don't have the money and the state of Connecticut has to recognize that there are projects that we simply can’t undertake,” said Sen. Markley of Southington on Monday, before the meeting. “The second is I’m not sure it makes sense either for the state or for the city of Hartford to put this much more money into a center that is losing money every year and really, to my mind, hasn't proved its worth to the community.”