Connecticut governor says if he spends $250m on arena, “folks” may bring a hockey team

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has explained that his screwy invitation to let the New York Islanders play in Hartford isn’t so screwy after all, because, um, some other guys who don’t actually have a hockey team called him about playing in Hartford if they got one:

“As a result of sending that letter, getting as much publicity as it got, we have been contacted by a group that would very much like to explore … bringing a team should they be successful in acquiring it,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday afternoon during a tour of the 42-year-old downtown arena…

“There are folks who are seeking to understand exactly what our plan calls for, and that’s not exclusively the Islanders anymore,” he said. “We’ve been contacted by other folks who are interesting in acquiring an NHL team and want to know what we would do to this facility to modernize it.”

That “modernize it” is the rub — aside from the vagueness of “folks” being the rub, obviously — since Malloy is proposing $250 million in renovations to the Hartford arena at a time when the state is facing a $1.3 billion deficit. The governor, trying to get out in front of the criticism, painted this as courage:

“We have a decision to make, do we close this facility in the next few years and give away the traffic in the downtown, give away the attraction of this facility in a city that’s fighting to make a comeback and fighting to retain the jobs it currently has, which I think is not the way to go, quite frankly,” he said. “And that’s why I’m more than willing to take some political heat to accomplish what I think is in the best interest of Hartford, the capital region and the state of Connecticut.”

That is indeed the decision to make, but deciding it’s “not the way to go” before actually crunching the numbers is, well, not the way to go. How about a study comparing whether it would be more beneficial to the state’s economy to put $250 million into a hockey arena without a hockey team or into, say, local education budgets? Hey, Connecticut legislators, maybe one of you would like to take this on as a spring project?

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26 comments on “Connecticut governor says if he spends $250m on arena, “folks” may bring a hockey team

  1. You had me right up until “local education budgets” (aka Teachers’ Union Giveaways).

    I’ve never been to Hartford, but my one friend (Yale alum) who used to live there fled a great job because of A) weather and B) there was nothing to do there. A nicer arena could help stem the brain drain.

    1. Every study I’ve ever seen shows that people and companies making location decisions consider quality schools (and roads and other basic infrastructure) as about a hundred times more important for deciding where to locate than whether there’s a hockey team nearby.

      As someone who has lived in central Connecticut, I agree that putting a dome over all of it to keep out the ice storms is a great idea, but it might be cost-prohibitive.

    2. Hey, your friend graduated from Yale. That reflects well on the Hartford education environment. Admittedly my sample size of one second hand story is rather small.

      1. Hartford has minor league hockey now, so cant really say an NHL team is “something to do” that wasn’t there before.

        It is a quiet region, but the brain drain has more to do with consolidation in the insurance industry and related businesses than regional activities.

    3. There are very few cities that don’t need updated facilities for their school systems. Necessary infrastructure (–real– infrastructure), not exactly “Teachers Union Giveaways”.

  2. And this is the GOVERNOR who’s concocted this scenario? What’s a $1.3 billion debt when you can spend another quarter-billion dollars in an effort to bring the NHL back to the nation’s 47th-largest market (based on a vague “maybe”)? Way to go, Connecticut voters, for electing this train wreck. Twice. Most people aren’t that committed to masochism.

    1. A lot of people in Hartford would give their left arm and firstborn child to get the Whalers back. $250 Million seems like a good deal in comparison.
      not saying that fierce devotion to a team that’s been dead for 2 decades is good necissarily, but it’s there.

      1. Fair play to them. Those people should start a fundraiser and cobble up the $250 million that’s needed to bring the venue up to NHL standards. Failing that, they should convince some billionaire with a ton of money to throw that amount of money into the project.

        They claim they’d do anything to get a team back, don’t they?

      2. Hartford has only a slightly better chance of getting the Whalers back as Canton has of the NFL rolling into town to give them the Bulldogs back.

  3. Let’s say they don’t land an NHL team, is there any evidence that arena renovations will help them get more concerts, ice shows or college basketball tournament games?

    Perhaps they should just lease the operating rights to AEG. They seem to be adept at operating arenas without a major tenant.

    1. Luckily the State bounced AEG in 2013. Spectra is now running the XL in their fourth year of a ten year deal. The plan does make the XL a modern arena with the same economical impact as what a new 500M dollar arena would cost. Competing for concerts, shows and sporting events is necessary for Hartford with what the Casinos in the southeast have taken away and what soon MGM will take away in Springfield. The XL does not have the earning power to attract top shows. For example the last three big concerts to be performed at the XL were; Cher, Janet Jackson and The Eagles. All well past their prime and Cher and Janet ended up canceling for health reasons.

      This is beyond overdue, a ton of half century old equipment sits in the XL Center held together with spit and glue.

      1. The XL doesn’t really have to attract top shows. That’s what the city-owned Meadows is for (and the Oakdale in Wallingford to a lesser extent).

        Really, if you’re a musical act, do you want an arena, or a dedicated music venue that can hold up to 30,000 people in the summer? If an act thinks they’re too big for the Meadows, then show them Rentschler Field.

  4. Did the writer of that linked article basically report the governor’s claims of a “second group” as gospel?

    With “journalists” like these, who needs propagandists?

  5. The Hartford Civic Center is 40ish years old and has hosted numerous events over this time. The arena is at a decision point – it either needs to get renovated or it will in short order need to be razed. Equipment is outdated to the point where parts are no longer available for repairs. Case in point: the system for making ice is being replaced this summer as it is falling apart.

    Also it’s important to remember the arena was built for something like 12k back in the 70’s. The roof collapsed due to a snow/rain storm and seating was increased to 16k. The problem, though, is that the concourses were never expanded to match the increased attendance so in between periods was quite the challenge.

    So, regardless of a new hockey team or not the question is: do we want to update our arena for $250M or, allow it to fall into disrepair and be razed? And if it’s razed how long before there is a proposal to build a new $500M arena? The bones are good, the sightlines are excellent and it brings life to downtown when otherwise there would only be tumbleweeds.

    Seems to me a sound investment; unfortunately the timing stinks from a fiscal perspective.

    1. $250m isn’t the repair cost, though — that’s for a major renovation. Ice-making equipment doesn’t cost anything near that amount.

      The way to evaluate this is to look side-by-side at the costs and benefits of razing, repairing, and renovating, and seeing which makes the most sense for the state in terms of fiscal impact, economic impact, and general quality of life. Instead the governor is mostly saying “Wooooo, hockey!!!”

  6. Imagine 700k visitors coming to see the impact of “educational budgeting”?

    Yea, I can’t either. The difference here is the city and state of Hartford haven’t ignored educational budgets for 42 years. Previous administrations have done just that regarding upkeep on the XL Center. The plan is from a highly credible NHL vendor but the plan is not at all solely for the NHL. The plan calls for an economic impacting driver for Hartford at half the price of what a new arena would cost. If you are sitting there thinking the budget is horrendous now? Imagine what a mess it will be without the business of 700k visitors per year.

    The fact that more than one major investment group has had their interest peaked on the plan. Is nothing but an absolute positive. When the NHL left it cost Greater Hartford 72.3M per year and the loss of 896 jobs, including 2.3M per year in income tax from the team. Adjusted for inflation today that would be 108M. A loss of the NHL was a huge contributor as to why Connecticut is where it is today.

    1. “Imagine 700k visitors coming to see the impact of “educational budgeting”?”

      Actually, yes. When business leaders are asked how they choose sites, an educated workforce is near the top of the list (as are good schools to send their own kids to, though obviously they can buy their way out of that via private schools, living in rich suburbs, etc.). I don’t know where your job and tax impact figures are from — or whether they account for the fact that when people in Connecticut stopped spending on Whalers games, they spent on something else — but it wouldn’t take too many new businesses attracted by good schools to make up for even 896 jobs.

      1. Corporations want entertainment options. How do you attract out of state candidates to Hartford without anything at all to do. I know the XL Center better than 90% of the people you will meet. I’ve spoken to the head designer of the plan had multiple guests from the CRDA on our Public Access TV show. I’ve toured the XL Center twice. Too many times I see people think that they can just let Hartfords entertainment dollar die. But in reality as I pointed out from the Hartford City Council in 1997, Hartford lost 75M to the downtown area including the 896 jobs. You lose the XL completely and Hartford is doomed to slip further into nothing. The corporate strength downtown hasn’t been asking for better schools they’ve been asking for this. I’ve spoken to them too. In 2014 when the XL added a number of corporate seats they sold out immediately for all events for the entire year. It’s time to take that interest from the corporate world in Hartford and put it to use before they take their entertainment bucks and spend them in Mass or NY.

        1. Yeah, no, that’s not actually how corporations make their decisions. Besides, CT has two newer arenas in Bridgeport and at Mohegan Sun that attract plenty of big touring acts, so it’s not like if you live near Hartford there’s no way to find entertainment.

          I’m not saying there’s no value to a renovated Hartford arena. Just that it’s nearly impossible that you’ll get as much bang for the buck from spending $250m on hat as you will spending $250m on, well, pretty much anything else.

          1. I’ll give you the bang for the buck as that depends on the management team(Spectra) of a state of the art arena, but that’s moot to the entire point of the XL renovation. This really isn’t a question of what you would get this is a question of what Hartford will further lose. It’s nice that there are smaller minded acts for arenas like Mohegan and Bridgport. The loss of revenue on attractions wouldn’t come to the state if they went to the casino and the Hartford market is not driving over an hour to Bridgeport to see anything. Besides their event calendar is bare through this coming summer, take a look.

            There are 1.3M people within a half hour of the XL. The average household income is over 75k and 30% of the area makes over 100k per household. The market jumps to 3.1 within an hour. There is too much disposable income in this market to not do it.

            We haven’t touched on the impact to UConn whom does not have a Hockey East arena on Campus. It’s not easy to build ether as Mansfield and Storrs do not want further traffic in their sleepy towns. UConn games actually produce a profit at the XL that has everything to do with 126k Alumni living within an hour of the XL Center and the ability to sell alcohol, which is another large revenue stream lost if the team was forced to play on campus.

            Hartford has more fortune five hundred companies than most NHL cities. As I have said they want this plan and they realize you can’t recruit good employees to a city that offers nothing in the entertainment realm. You may not believe that but that’s what Travelers, UHC, JP Morgan, and many others have told us. Some company excutives are working closely with the CRDA on this plan and it certainly isn’t to educate Hartford students and convince them to stay in a city with nothing to do and no civic pride for the market to invest in.

        2. Let’s be frank–the only reason Hartford had a team at all was because of 1) the limited number of viable 1970s hockey markets and 2) the fallout from the WHAs attempts to survive.

          It’s not like Hartford was some kind of hockey metropolis. Pretty low attendance, better when the team was good. Nowhere close to the wealth or corporate market needed to wolf down expensive modern NHL tickets annually.

          If Hartford people want a better act than Cher, I don’t think that needs an NHL arena. And how many businesses relocated because of the Yard Goats?

          1. Great point, GDub! Hartford got extremely lucky.

            The New England Whalers were founded as a Boston-based team. Their owners weren’t looking to set-up shop in a small market like Hartford. The team was squeezed out of Boston by the presence of the Bruins, Celtics, and traditional college hockey powerhouses on the winter sports calendar. The Whalers couldn’t get decent arena dates, or favorable rent terms, in such a crowded market and were forced to look elsewhere.

            Being local New England guys, the Whalers owners didn’t want to own a WHA team in some other far-flung part of the country, so they opted instead for the less-than-ideal pro sports market of Hartford. The result was a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants financial existence for the vast majority of the team’s time in Connecticut. Even in the best of years, the financial margins for the team’s operations in Hartford were thin. The team’s relocation wasn’t a matter of “if”, but “when”.

        3. If the “corporations” in downtown Hartford truly “want entertainment options” in order to “attract out of state candidates” for employment, and these corporate entities have been “asking” the State of Connecticut’s government leaders to renovate the XL Center in order to attract such “entertainment options”, than perhaps it is time to ask these corporate entities to pony-up the $250 million necessary to upgrade the arena to modern standards.

          Die-hard Hartford Whalers and UConn Huskies athletics fans likely don’t want to hear this, but it is not a responsibility of government to provide publicly-financed construction and upkeep of facilities in which professional sports franchises and popular entertainers can ply their trade. Government’s responsibilities include investment in public safety, construction and maintenance of transportation infrastructure, and the establishment and financing of public education. Footing-the-bill with public monies for arenas and stadiums in which private businesses can charge the masses exorbitant fees to watch the “bread and circuses” of modern pro sports is not a necessity for the government.

          Boston’s economy seems to be doing great. In fact, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts just lured the corporate HQ of General Electric out of Connecticut. It did so by offering GE tax incentives and breaks on property taxes. As for “entertainment options” for the employees of GE, the pro sports franchises that call Massachusetts home all play in facilities that were built and are maintained PRIVATELY, by the owners of the teams that call them home.

          Given the fiscal straits that the State of Connecticut finds itself in, a responsible governor would take a page from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ book and insist that any NHL owner who wishes to potentially operate his team in Hartford should be responsible for paying for the renovation of the XL Center, or construction of a new facility, PRIVATELY. If the City of Boston and Commonwealth of Massachusetts are capable of sticking-to-their-guns when it comes to insisting that the owners of the Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, Red Sox, and Revolution foot-the-bill for their facilities, why shouldn’t the City of Hartford and State of Connecticut do the same?

  7. Paraphrasing here, but “we might get a team, if we build/renovate the arena.”

    How did that work out for Kansas City? I don’t know, because I only know what I read, and I don’t read everything. But, it seems to me that Quebec City and Seattle are ahead of Hartford, in any expansion/relocation situation. Maybe Portland, and even Kansas City too.

    Now that the NHL has added their latest, sure to do wonderful franchise in Las Vegas, there is only one more spot available for the next couple of decades. I mean how many teams are they going to have? 32, or 40?

    I feel like I am living in Rome, and it is the year 350ad.

  8. Young people are looking for experiences. Restaurants , weekend festival , etc. Hockey ranks slightly above golf and NASCAR on their fun list.

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