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May 8, 2024

Budget stabilization plan boosts state’s potential XL Center renovation investment to $125M

RENDERING | CONTRIBUTED A planned $100 million XL Center renovation would push back the arena’s main stage, increasing concert capacity to over 13,000 people.

Efforts to revitalize Hartford’s XL Center are set to receive another potential boost after the state legislature’s passage late Tuesday night of a $370 million budget stabilization plan.

The bill, which has been greenlit by the House and Senate, increases the maximum amount of funding from $80 million to $125 million that the state and Capital Region Development Authority can contribute to an XL Center renovation. 

That potential $45 million increase in funding comes just weeks after bids for a $107 million XL Center renovation plan came in nearly $40 million over budget.

The budget stabilization bill mostly assigns $370 million in expiring federal pandemic grants to bolster higher education, social services, mental health, child care and town aid next fiscal year.

Included in the bill, however, is also mention of the XL Center renovation funding increase. 

CRDA has been angling for years for a large-scale rehabilitation of the roughly 50-year-old and increasingly obsolete arena. 

Gov. Ned Lamont and state lawmakers last year agreed to pump $80 million into an XL Center renovation project, provided venue operator and promoter Oak View Group invest an additional $20 million.

The Los Angeles-based live entertainment company agreed to do so, in exchange for a 20-year contract to run the XL Center and keep the first $4 million in annual net profit.

Any profit over that mark would be split with CRDA and used for arena maintenance. OVG would be responsible for covering any operating loss.

However, the renovation plan hit a major stumbling block in March, when CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth announced that bids for the renovation tallied to roughly $140 million, well above the estimated $107 million budget. 

That sent project planners back to the drawing board; they had to attempt to cut expenses without trimming elements essential to drawing more concerts and events, Freimuth said.

If the additional state funding comes through, the original renovation plan can stay largely intact.

Michael Puffer | Hartford Business Journal
CRDA Executive Director Mike Freimuth providing a tour of the XL Center.

CRDA leaders say major XL Center systems need to be replaced, while premium seating, staging and other elements of the downtown venue need updating to attract performers and events.

Planned renovations include upgrades needed to pull off shows, such as rigging, increased power capacity, new lighting, a new sound system and staging improvements.

There are also plans for new premium club seating, upgrades to lower bowl seating and improvements to amenities along the concourse.

The arena currently runs a roughly $2 million annual operating deficit and hosts six to eight concerts a year, in addition to various sporting and other events.
Oak View Group has said a major renovation will attract more acts to the Hartford venue. 

Freimuth, on Wednesday morning, said the budget stabilization bill gives CRDA and the state “upside” to go to $125 million for the renovation, but that funding is “subject to lots of approvals.”

The $80 million cap set last year was too low based on the bids that came in, he said. 

“... so this gives us some running room but does not guarantee” $125 million, Freimuth said.

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