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October 25, 2023

CRDA board to vote on moving $100M+ XL Center renovation forward

HBJ PHOTO | GREG BORDONARO The XL Center in downtown Hartford.

The Capital Region Development Authority will ask its board of directors on Thursday to sign off on advancing plans for a long-simmering $100 million-plus XL Center renovation.

The investment is expected to make up for decades of deferred maintenance to the downtown sports and entertainment arena. It will also reconfigure portions of the building with the aim of helping to attract more performers and visitors.

 The CRDA has sought a comprehensive overhaul of the 47-year-old concrete structure for years. In June, the General Assembly agreed to contribute up to $80 million toward the effort, provided private sources fund at least $20 million of the project.

The green light sought by CRDA staff would also authorize continued negotiations with Oak View Group, the entertainment company currently managing the XL Center. The two sides have been negotiating a deal that could involve OVG contributing at least $20 million.

In exchange for its investment, Oak View Group would get an extended contract to manage the arena. It would keep the first $4 million in net profit each year, and split any additional net revenue with the CRDA. Any contract worked out would require another approval by the CRDA board.

CRDA staff aren’t worried about lost revenue as the 15,500-seat arena currently runs at a yearly deficit of about $2 million, which is subsidized by state taxpayers.

Officials justify the ongoing loss by citing anecdotal benefits to hotels, restaurants and other businesses from spill-over event traffic. The hope is that the renovation will make the building more active and profitable.

The current plan includes a new ramping and bay door system that would eliminate a bottleneck that drastically slows the loading and unloading of props and equipment – a big expense and turnoff for performers. 

The stage would be reoriented to meet a concert capacity of 13,000, and the “lower bowl” of the arena would be rebuilt to offer different types of in-demand premium seating. 

Other improvements include upgrades and repairs to IT and audio/visual systems, mechanical upgrades and, budget allowing, improvements to the amenity concourse surrounding the inner arena.

The CRDA board will be asked Thursday to acknowledge its approval of the renovation plans, and to instruct staff to keep pushing the project forward.

CRDA staff have kept the board well-informed as the project has moved forward, but Michael Freimuth, executive director of the economic development agency, said he wants to be certain of support before bids are issued.

“We have talked about it endlessly, but we are about to put bids on the street, so I want to confirm everybody is comfortable with the program,” Freimuth said Wednesday.

Freimuth anticipates presenting a contract proposal with Oak View Group to the board in December or January.

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