If They Build it, Will Whalers Come? New Plans in Hartford Could Provide Facility for NHL Return

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A Rendering of the “Renovated” XL Center. New Arena could finally give Connecticut a state of the art facility.

After breaking ground on a minor league baseball stadium earlier this week, the city of Hartford was investigating the long-term feasibility of it’s current arena. Despite the $ 35 Million renovations this past summer, the study was adamant stating this was only a temporary fix and would at most keep the arena serviceable for another five years. The Hartford Courant has revealed that the Capital Region Development Authority has proposed two long-term fans to not only prolong UConn’s use of the facility, but to possibly open the door for an NHL franchise down the road.

The CRDA has proposed two different options with both involving the current XL Center site. While there were plans to possibly move the arena, the best location was determined to be the location of the new ballpark which is now out of the question. The authority stresses the need for an overhaul of the current facilities stating the following:
CRDA: It is generally recognized that the XL Center’s functionality and ability to generate revenue are severely limited by its age, obsolete design, mechanical systems, limited size of the current building footprint, narrow concourses, limited fan amenities, shortage of restrooms and ADA deficiencies.

Option 1: New Arena
The first option would be to build a new arena on the existing site of the current XL Center. This option proposes that the current arena be completely torn down and built from scratch. This arena would have state of the art amenities and would allow for more efficient loading and off-loading of supplies at the arena. It is estimated to tear down and rebuild the arena would take 36 months. While this arena would be brand new and offer superior sight lines including over a thousand additional seats in the lower bowl, this would mean that the site could not host an event for three years and is the more costly option of the two.

Option 2: Renovate Current Arena 

The XL Center in it's current state

The XL Center in its current state

This would be the less costly of the options costing $250 Million. The benefits to this plan are that the arena could still be opened during the renovations as the upgrades would be done in phases, like how Madison Square Garden was renovated. This option (as seen rendered above), would still give the state a stop of the line facility and is assured by the committee to have the same draw as a brand new arena for an NHL team. However the drawbacks to this option are an extra $ 15 Million dollars to make this arena option “NHL ready” and not offer the superior same sight lines of a new arena.

Both plans are similar in that they both would get seating capacity of the arena down to 16,000 for hockey and 17,000 for basketball. The role of UConn will also be of the utmost importance because for the success of the arena it is recommended that UConn needs to become a partner at the facility rather than a part-time tenant.

While there is no question that the XL Center needs an overhaul, or to be replaced the big question that hockey fans want to know is will these actions bring the NHL back to Hartford?While there is no easy way to answer that question the best thing to say about these plans for the arena and the NHL is this. It’s a start.

A new arena will be much more attractive for an NHL franchise, but the CRDA has said that the renovation option will offer a state of the art venue for a team. Even with the agency’s study proving that the market could support an NHL based on numerous factors, the agency also pointed out that a new or renovated arena won’t guarantee a Whalers return.

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A new Arena won’t guarantee the return of the beloved Whalers, but it’s a step in the right direction.

As a hockey fan nothing would make me happier to see my team, the Hartford Whalers return. This arena isn’t just about getting the NHL back, but ensuring  long-term economic growth in the state.

A new XL Center would allow Connecticut to host more important sporting events, concerts, and shows while giving the University of Connecticut the home they deserve. This is what the state needs to do. Invest the long-term success of the UConn athletic programs and provide the region a state of the art facility. Hartford could host such events as NCAA Regionals while being considered a sight for prestigious events such as the Frozen Four. While this process remains in its infancy the fact that the state realizes the abysmal state of the XL Center is a step in the right direction. It knows the arena is a concrete catastrophe at the moment and needs to be addressed before it’s too late.

If Hartford follows up and goes through with either of these plans then the state of Connecticut’s athletics and entertainment will be heading in the right direction. Then… maybe then, the NHL may give Hartford the call they have waited for since 1997. Hockey fans can only dream that one day in Hartford the sounds of the brass bonanza will echo through downtown as fans scream in jovial delight, “The Whalers have returned”!

To see the full plans for both options at the XL Center click here

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