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March 16, 2023

CRDA targets $107.2M upgrade to Hartford’s XL Center

A planned $107 million XL Center rehab would redesign the stage, create premium seating areas at ground level, renovate seating, upgrade vending stations and other functions on the concourse and more. 

A plan to repair, upgrade and keep the 50-year-old XL Center in downtown Hartford running and relevant will cost $107.2 million.

That’s according to a construction estimate recently provided to the Capital Region Development Authority by two estimators.

Hartford officials and CRDA staff see the sports and entertainment arena as a key city attraction, something that brings in crowds to patronize local restaurants on event nights and adds to the city’s vibrancy.


The aging facility is currently undergoing millions in repairs and will need millions more to keep functioning, even without a dramatic overhaul, said CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth. The current plan would keep the building running and make it a more appealing and efficient venue, allowing it to bring in more performances, he said.

“The thing that concerns me is if we don’t make an investment, we are really on a slow deterioration process to closure,” Freimuth told the Hartford Business Journal Thursday. “It may not be this year and it may be five years from now. It’s a 50-year-old building in an industry where the average is 15 to 20. And we don’t have some of the features that some of the modern buildings have that attract promoters and attract events and satisfy fans.”

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

In addition to rehabbing core systems, like the roof, plumbing, electrical and elevators, the planned rehab would redesign the stage, create premium seating areas at ground level, renovate seating, upgrade vending stations and other functions on the concourse and more. 

Importantly, it would also redesign the loading bay areas to allow up to six tractor trailers simultaneous access, rather than just one or two under the current configuration.

That is important to allow performers to quickly load and unload, a key cost factor when considering a venue.

Securing a partner

Los Angeles-based based sports and live entertainment company Oak View Group manages the XL center on behalf of the CRDA, having taken over a management contract following its November 2021 acquisition of venue management and hospitality company Spectra. That contract expires in 2025.

CRDA and OVG are in negotiations, Freimuth said, that could lead to the company contributing “tens-of-millions” of dollars to the project through an agreement that extends its management of the facility another 20 years. Under discussion now is how any operational profits might be split. 


Freimuth is adamant that OVG would have to cover any operational losses.

Right now, the XL Center runs an operating deficit averaging about $2.5 million yearly, Freimuth said. The venue’s annual deficit climbed to about $4 million during the pandemic, although that was offset by federal COVID relief, he said.

Freimuth stressed the XL Center generates tax revenue and increased business activity in the area that is not reflected in the operating loss calculus.

The renovations being contemplated today are designed to help OVG attract more acts to put the facility’s operational budget in the black and reap additional benefits for surrounding businesses.  

Freimuth said he hopes to strike an agreement with OVG by late spring. It would be contingent on securing renovations moving forward.

Where’s the money coming from

State lawmakers balked at a proposed $250 million redevelopment of the XL Center in 2018, but did approve $65 million to go toward a pared-down redevelopment plan the following year.

Those funds still require approval from the state Bond Commission.

Freimuth said he’s hoping to pair that state support with other CRDA funds, money from OVG and, possibly, additional donated funds to reach the $107.2 million price tag of the currently envisioned project. It is possible the state might have to contribute $5 million to $10 million more to make the project work, Freimuth said.

CRDA has tapped $40 million approved for the XL Center in 2017 to cover the costs of $15 million in ongoing repairs and upgrades — including construction of a highly-anticipated sports betting lounge on the edge of the building overlooking Ann Uccello Street.

Providence-based Dimeo Construction is building the lounge under a contract that includes improvements to the building’s western concourse, construction of additional restrooms, commercial kitchen improvements and upgrades to other systems. The sports betting facility was originally targeted to open last fall but is now expected to debut this summer due to supply chain delays.

In terms of the overall XL Center renovation, CRDA still needs to confirm the price tag. Two big steps include finalizing designs – something expected before Aug. 31 – and securing bids from subcontractors, expected to be completed by Nov. 30, according to a presentation shared with the CRDA board Thursday.

“The question everybody keeps asking is: ‘What is this going to cost?’ They don’t want to commit to something open-ended,” Freimuth said. “That’s what most folks are telling me – land the budget. That’s what we are trying to do, land the budget.”

The CRDA will also need to secure an agreement with Northland, owner of an abutting parking structure with retail spaces, in order to move a wall to improve loading capabilities. Freimuth said the renovation would benefit Northland’s operation as well.

Hartford officials would also have to agree to an extension of CRDA’s mandate to oversee the XL Center property. Freimuth said it is likely the General Assembly would need to pass special legislation granting CRDA additional deal-making authority.

CRDA’s tentative schedule calls for construction to launch in November or December. The XL Center would close in May 2024 to allow for construction, then reopen in September for the fall sports season. 

It would close again the following May and reopen with upgrades completed in September 2025. 


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