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?

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.

Hartford offers to host Islanders if they’re left homeless, gets into this headline

With the New York Islanders potentially homeless starting in 2019, it was only a matter of time before other cities eager to lure a hockey team started throwing their hats in the ring. And first up is … nope, not Quebec. Not Seattle, either. Think closer to home — yep, you’ve got it:

[Connecticut] Governor Dannel Malloy and [Hartford] Mayor Luke Bronin … sent a joint letter addressed to New York Islanders ownership Friday inviting the NHL club to play at Hartford’s XL Center…

“This is a ready market anxious for an NHL team, eager to fill seats, buy merchandise, and support your team,” Malloy and Bronin wrote to Islanders owners Jon Ledecky, Scott Malkin and Charles Wang (who owns a minority stake). “Your AHL affiliate is in nearby Bridgeport, allowing quick and easy access to your minor-league players, and represents a footing in Connecticut of the Islander franchise.”

I mean, worth a shot and all, but Hartford is pretty much completely inaccessible to the Islanders’ fan base on Long Island (at least until somebody builds that Oyster Bay-Rye Bridge); and if the team’s owners really wanted to up and start over with a new fan base, Quebec and Seattle both have newer arenas and larger populations to offer. Hartford might make a tiny bit of sense as a temporary emergency move if the Islanders had no where else to play, to lure in some Connecticut fans to attach themselves to the team, and then once they’re back in a permanent home they’d travel down to … nope, still no bridge. Okay, this mostly makes sense as a way to put out a press release with “Hartford” and “hockey” in it, and I just fell for it. Damn — well played, Dannel and Luke, well played.

Cash-starved Connecticut considering $250m arena renovation because millennials or something

The state of Connecticut is considering spending $250 million to upgrade Hartford’s XL Center (formerly the Hartford Civic Center) and everybody likes it except for the part about coming up with $250 million:

Supporters of transforming downtown’s aging XL Center arena lined up at a hearing Tuesday to back the $250 million project, but the uncertainty of whether the money will be there to pay for it hung over the meeting…

There is growing resistance to using bonds — essentially the state’s credit card — for big ticket projects when funding is being cut to social services, road improvements and school construction…

“The state simply can’t afford these kinds of projects at this fiscal moment,” Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said, at the hearing. “Bonding and debt service has grown dramatically and terrifyingly … And $250 million or whatever the final price tag is, we can’t afford in these times.”

I’ve been to the Hartford arena, and I’m sure renovations would be nice (though the place is hardly falling down). But Connecticut already has plenty of other concert venues (the arena in Bridgeport, the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos, there’s no major pro sports team using the Hartford arena, and while the arena is currently losing about $3 million a year, spending $250 million to save $3 million a year is beyond stupid, so what’s the urgency, exactly?

The authority has said the renovations are necessary if the city hopes to bring major league hockey back to Hartford, absent since 1997 when the Hartford Whalers left…

“If we don’t take action and we leave the thing as it is, how can we attract new businesses, new people, millennials?” said Scott St. Laurent, secretary of the Hartford Whalers Booster Club, who was wearing a Whalers jersey. “How can we attract them to downtown if we don’t give them anything to do?”

There you have it: Connecticut is considering spending $250 million on arena renovations because millennials — who are already moving to downtown Hartford in droves — won’t go downtown unless they can watch an imaginary hockey team. At least this would make everybody forget about the Yard Goats fiasco, though I’m not sure in a good way.

Hartford arena operator proposes $250m renovation, because $250m is a nice round number

Connecticut’s Capital Region Development Authority is proposing $250 million in state-funded upgrades to the Building Formerly Known As The Hartford Civic Center, which would include redoing concourses, converting skyboxes to restaurants and clubs, and rebuilding the outer wall so that passersby can see in:

“The objective is to make this building a new building,” [authority executive director Michael] Freimuth said. “It has to look, feel and smell new.”

There’s no money-grubbing sports team owner behind this move — the Hartford Whalers moved out a while back, in case you didn’t notice — but rather just a public arena manager asking the state for a pile of cash to spruce up the building it runs. So is this a bad idea or not?

The question, as it should always be with stadium development deals (or development deals of any kind), is not “Is the public paying for it?” but “What is the public getting for it?” The arena authority claims that spending $250 million on renovations will help produce more revenues from the building, which currently runs about a $3 million a year loss for the state. Freimuth didn’t provide any details on how much more revenue, though, beyond saying that he hopes the arena “would be better than break-even” — and I’d hope even the most math-challenged readers (or legislators) can see that spending $250 million to bring in an extra $3 million a year would be a horrible, horrible investment. (Freimuth also hinted that the renovations could help land an NHL team, though 1) nobody thinks the NHL is ready to go back to Hartford, and 2) if any new revenues are set to pay off the renovation costs and not go into the team’s pocket, why would an NHL owner be attracted by them?)

So should Connecticut just sit and live with an oldish arena, if there’s no way to economically justify the improvements? Maybe. Or maybe somebody needs to look at that $250 million price tag and figure out which items on it are really likely to boost revenues, and which ones are just there because they look neat. Not that there isn’t some intangible benefit to having a nicer-looking arena in the middle of your downtown, but there’s benefit to most other things the state could be doing with $250 million too — just because somebody came up with a design that costs that much doesn’t mean state officials should fall victim to the edifice complex.

Connecticut governor: I have on this piece of paper names of would-be Whalers owners

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy says he’s been contacted by several groups looking to revive the Hartford Whalers — if the state chips in for improvements to Hartford’s arena:

“Over the last six months I have been contacted by several groups who are interested in knowing that should they acquire a team and win the rights to move that team, would we be interested in competing for that team that is with facilities, housing? I have indicated time and time again that we would be interested, although probably not at our sole expense.”

That’s pretty vague, but then, multiple people calling up the governor’s office and saying, “Hey, would you help us out if we could get a team?” is pretty nebulous to begin with. Malloy said he “encouraged at least two groups” (what, he can’t count that high?) that the state would be “active participants” if they were to acquire a team; who knows what that means, except that Connecticut is likely to see lots of haggling in its future over how much more to pour into the Hartford Civic Center (yes, it has a corporate name now, but I can’t be bothered to remember it) on top of the $35 million it just sunk into new scoreboards, concessions, and other facilities, or whether to build a whole new building, in exchange for a team that might never arrive.