March Madness Hits Hartford's XL Center With No Remodel In Sight | Connecticut Public Radio

March Madness Hits Hartford's XL Center With No Remodel In Sight

Mar 20, 2019

There could’ve been major work done by now on a building that’ll host a lot of people this weekend.

But, there’s no renovation on the books right now for the XL Center in Hartford, a 44-year-old, state-owned building officials have said is in desperate need of a makeover.

Six NCAA men’s basketball tournament games will tip-off at the arena beginning Thursday.

Geno Auriemma, who’s helmed the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team to 11 national titles, has beef with the state over the XL Center.

“The state owns the place and we have to pay to play down there,” Auriemma said. “And they go ‘UConn, they don’t make a lot of money.’ Well, no kidding. The money we do make, we have to give back to them -- the same with Rentschler Field.”

Auriemma set the tone for the games when he complained about the facility at a speaking engagement at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce on March 18. He doesn’t want the school to have to pay for something that’s doesn’t – in his opinion – meet his team’s championship-level standards.

“Now, people don’t usually write that and say a big deal about it, but either let us play there for free or fix the damn place,” Auriemma said.

Governor Dannel Malloy proposed a $250 million state-funded renovation of the XL Center in 2017, which would’ve had construction going on around this time. But, the project died in the state legislature. Malloy’s out of office now and the new administration has yet to make a move toward a resolution.

The Capital Region Development Authority runs the building and it actually put out a request for proposals last year to get the building sold to someone who would fix it up.

“The one response has been reviewed by CRDA, but a final decision has been postponed pending discussion with the new governor’s team,” said Michael Freimuth, CRDA’s executive director.

Connecticut Public Radio reached out to the governor’s office and received a written statement in response to an XL Center query.

“The XL Center is an important cultural pillar for our entire capitol region and the state overall,” said Maribel La Luz, Governor Ned Lamont’s director of communications. “It should continue to thrive, but in a way that doesn’t overly burden taxpayers or future generations, therefore any solutions must be evaluated within the confines of the state’s limited resources.”

Chris Lawrence, the arena’s general manager, said that the building needs to be modernized to be competitive in booking more big-ticket events.

“Amenities, technologies, mechanical systems – there’s a lot of things that we can sit here [if we nitpick] and try to fix,” Lawrence said.

"It's not heaven, but it is an awesome place to play basketball," said Villanova University men's basketball coach Jay Wright.
Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

Villanova University men’s basketball is the defending national champion and it’s one of eight teams playing NCAA Tournament games in the building this year. Coach Jay Wright immediately mentioned the many battles his teams had in the arena back when both teams were in the Big East conference when he stepped to the podium at the XL Center a day before his team’s NCAA tournament run was set to begin.

“It’s not heaven, but it is an awesome place to play basketball,” Wright said.

He said he doesn’t think much about buildings when he coaches – just the atmosphere on the court.

“This place rocks,” Wright said.

The six games will be played in three different sessions. The XL Center staff anticipates at least 13,000 spectators, many of them from out of state, to show up to each. And if the place is indeed packed, what will those people think about the arena they paid to sit in.