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NCAA Arena Renovation Faces Financial Challenges


By Ryan Berlin Design & Construction
Firestone Library on campus of Princeton University

It’s never an ideal time for renovations to institutional and commercial facilities, as systems, equipment and the facility itself begins to fail, maintenance and engineering managers need to know exactly what needs to be done and what it will cost. That’s the issue facing owners and managers of the XL Center arena in Connecticut.

As the 2019 NCAA college basketball tournament is upon us, one facility hosting games this year is pursuing a $100 million renovation, according to the Hartford Courant.

Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) chief Michael W. Freimuth is out to sell the idea of a $100 million, state-funded renovation of the aging arena that he and other supporters see as critical to downtown revitalization and remaining competitive in attracting big-ticket events that have the potential to send tens of millions of dollars rippling through the regional economy.

The debate over the future of the 16,000-seat XL Center arena — brewing for years — is likely to come to a head in this session of the General Assembly, just as the governor and legislators try to figure out how to overcome a projected deficit of at least $1.5 billion.

For five years, the future of the arena has been clouded. The renovations were intended to keep the arena operating until a long-term strategy was mapped out. Despite strong support from former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a $250 million, top-to-bottom makeover that would have added a second concourse to relieve congestion and add amenities failed to gain traction among lawmakers, as the state faced a spiraling budget deficit.

In a 2017 speech, UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma said the arena was the worst building UConn plays in of any major university in the country. While Freimuth and others say the arena will show well for this year’s tournament, the 2014 renovations won’t be enough to sustain the 16,000-seat arena far into the future. CRDA, which oversees the operation of the arena, now has scaled down the renovation to about $100 million.

The more modest plan eliminates the biggest ticket item, the second concourse, and focuses on the lower half of the arena. Instead, the existing concourse would be expanded into the atrium, adding sorely needed restrooms and more concessions and relieving visitor congestion.

Ryan Berlin is managing editor of Facility Maintenance Decisions.

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