Officials in charge of the state’s XL Center in Hartford have approved a $250 million transformation of the building. But whether it happens and how to pay for it now falls to lawmakers and the governor.
The XL Center has its problems. First, it’s ugly.
"It’s been known as a bunker with 18,000 seats," said Mike Freimuth, who runs the state-funded Capital Region Development Authority. But looks are only part of the issue. It's also old.
"Just about every day, there’s a new gremlin living someplace in some system," he said. "We can’t even find all the wires in the building... In the world of internet and iPhones, we’re dealing with pneumatic tubes for switches. So this thing is out of a Marx Brothers movie."
The building is beyond its useful life and is a drain on state finances. But knocking it down and starting over would be too expensive, and doing nothing is, for many stakeholders, unacceptable. Freimuth said the best choice is a $250 million renovation, keeping the building open as much as possible.
"Two hundred fifty million dollars basically takes it right down to the skin and rebuilds it in place," he said.
The work would make glassy entrances all the way around the building to give it more of a welcoming feel. There’d be another concourse, more concessions, and better seating. And while NHL hockey isn’t around the corner, the redesign wouldn’t rule it out.
"We are designing it with that eye, but we’re not making that investment," he said.
Governor Dannel Malloy has said he supports the modernization effort.
Matt Ritter is the incoming Democratic House Majority Leader. Following the debacle of city’s new minor league baseball park, Ritter conceded that there is some Hartford fatigue at the legislature. But he said the XL Center is different.
"There’s a generation of Connecticut residents who, from all over the state, who’ve gone there to watch hockey or basketball or concerts," Ritter said. "It’s an important part of the state."
Ritter said the the trick will be figuring out creative ways to help pay for it.