CT governor, facing $1.3b deficit, proposes $250m for Hartford arena upgrades, just because

Connecticut Gov. (and Stephen Colbert lookalike) Dannel Malloy wants to spend $250 million on renovations to Hartford’s arena because, because … “investment,” I guess?

Malloy’s budget chief confirmed Monday that the governor’s two-year capital plan — to be unveiled Wednesday along with the state’s proposed operating budget — will include $50 million in 2018 and $75 million in 2019.

“We are essentially suggesting, if the legislature approves this funding, they are committing to the full $250 million,” Ben Barnes said.

Barnes said the proposal is consistent with other state investments in downtown Hartford, including apartment conversions, Front Street and the new University of Connecticut campus.

Well, no, not really. A new UConn campus at least benefits UConn students, who are otherwise being packed in increasing numbers into Storrs, an infinitesimal town in the eastern part of the state that is only accessible by mule train. (I may be exaggerating, but as I was reminded when I spoke there in November, not by much.) A renovated arena with an extra 3,000 seats benefits getting more people to go to events at the arena, I guess, but there aren’t many of those. So why exactly is this a priority for state spending?

When the arena upgrade was first proposed a couple of months ago, the best argument anyone could come up with was that millennials won’t live downtown unless it has a nicer hockey arena. But more recently, of course, there has arisen another, even less likely, goal: Luring the New York Islanders to Hartford.

“I’m going to send another letter to the commissioners spelling out what we think would be appropriate in the modernization of that facility so he may have an understanding of what we are trying to do,” Malloy said. “Listen, this is a long shot, but if you don’t reach out and if you’re not in the discussion, then you can’t be considered.”

Okay, sure, saying you’re willing to upgrade your arena if a team is willing to move there — and even having an upgrade plan ready to go — isn’t a terrible idea. The two things you don’t want to do, though, are: committing to the money without first getting a lease agreement from a team that you’re sure will help repay the cost of upgrades; and committing to the money without even being sure a team will come at all. Those are the two things Gov. Malloy is now doing, because Gov. Malloy apparently thinks a quarter-billion dollars grows on trees.

State legislators are less sure about the money trees, according to the Hartford Courant, which notes that “there is a growing resistance to using bonds — essentially the state’s credit card — for big-ticket projects when funding is being cut to social service programs, road improvements and school programs.” With the state already facing a $1.3 billion deficit, you have to think that spending $250 million on a hockey arena with no hockey team will prompt at least a little bit of debate, but we’ll see how it goes as budget season kicks into full gear.


12 comments on “CT governor, facing $1.3b deficit, proposes $250m for Hartford arena upgrades, just because

  1. Great idea waste money on stadium raise the cost of pistol permit renewals from 70.00 to 300.00 and take away 200.00 tax credit if you own a home and make under 100k

  2. Yea, downtown development:

    a) a baseball stadium that is a year behind (and based on the re-repairs, poorly constructed in spots).

    b) Front Street, which one of its main restaurant spots is floundering bad, if not about to close.

    c) New campus…big deal, it attracts a few more kids to the area.

    d) Apartment Conversions…well, see: http://www.courant.com/real-estate/property-line/hc-777-main-window-repair-20170208-story.html – yep, nice one.

    Hartford can’t get out of its own way.

  3. First, I must point out, the XL Center (aka Civic Center) has been renovated several times in its history, including just a couple years ago. Each renovation has been almost-immediately followed by demands for more renovations. It’s as though no renovation is ever enough to satisfy its promoters. So at this point, I’m inclined to say “no” just on this point alone. They can’t keep coming back for more as though nothing had ever been done.

    Second, razing the place and building new, which has been floated a lot, isn’t going to solve that problem at all. We have no reason to believe the new place’s opening won’t immediately be followed by demands for more improvements and renovations. We’re sure to end up right back on that very same whiney (and expensive) treadmill.

    Third, when the Civic Center was built in the 70s we had a WHA hockey team, the Whalers, and there were few other sites for major concerts, so it was built for both of them and, for a time, it worked. That WHA team became an NHL team, then UConn basketball came aboard as well, and they moved up into the then-new Big East conference. Concerts were frequent. It also had an exhibition hall for small conventions (if you could call them that). And there was a shopping mall, which seems odd now, but for a while, it also worked.

    Then came a quick series of events: The departure of the NHL team, to be replaced by a minor-league team; the opening of competing concert venues at the two casinos and the Meadows; the building of Gampel Pavilion that took half of UConn’s home games; a proper convention center opened downtown and a smaller venue opened in the north meadows. In a couple years a third casino will compete to the north in Springfield. The departure of downtown workers due to corporate mergers and downsizing led to the closure of the shopping mall.

    The idea that the XL Center can be returned to the greatness of the late 70s through the mid 80s, if only it’s renovated enough, is quite simply absurd. It’s not going to happen! It can’t. The world in which it was created is not the world in which it is, now. Its management, and its fanbois, need to remember this. It faces increased competition for almost everyone and everything, and doesn’t have the kind of marquee team (i.e. the Whalers) it used to house. There’s little reason, at this point, to spend a lot of money on it, if there aren’t many uses for it.

  4. FYI, Malloy held a presser outlining what a sad state the XL Center is in (http://www.courant.com/politics/hc-malloy-tours-hartford-xl-center-20170216-story.html). They have escalators and elevators that broke, among other things. Of course, fixing those should be part of ongoing maintenance and upkeep, and shouldn’t require a rebuild to fix, but apparently they do.
    Thus, I conclude their MO is this: Let everything break and degrade, complain that things are broken and degraded, then use that to justify demanding renovations or a complete rebuild of the facility.

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