HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – No matter if Connecticut can’t attract another professional hockey team to its capital city, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday the aging XL Center in downtown Hartford still needs to be either overhauled or ultimately shuttered.
The Democrat’s new budget plan proposes borrowing $250 million over several years to renovate the downtown Hartford arena, first built in 1975. The plan comes as Malloy and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin have invited the New York Islanders NHL team to consider making the XL Center its new home.Related Content: Gov. Malloy calls on New York Islanders to move to Hartford
“A lot has been made, and I think has confused people, that we need to spend money on this facility in the hope and a prayer that we will get an NHL team,” said Malloy, following a tour of the structure. “Now I hope and pray we do get an NHL team, but the work we’re talking about has been underway design-wise for a number of years.”
Malloy said attracting the New York Islanders or any other team is “separate and apart” from what the state needs to do to maintain University of Connecticut hockey and basketball games at the arena as well as concerts and other events “that more often than not are bypassing this facility for the lack of the modern facility that it needs to be and should be.”Related Content: Report: Gov. Malloy to propose $250 million renovation of XL Center
The arena is set to host the American Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament next month. UConn Athletic Director David Benedict said his department is “supportive of any proposal that will enhance the fan experience at our games in that facility.”
On Friday, Malloy ticked off a list of problems with the aging arena, ranging from a lack of luxury box seating to faulty cooling and heating systems. During his tour, a worker was busy replacing a corroded cast iron pipe that failed on the previous night.
“Either we close this facility in the not-too-distant future or we rebuild it. Because I’m certainly not going to propose that we spend $750 million to $1 billion on a new facility when we could accomplish so much of that at substantial savings to the taxpayers of the state of Connecticut,” he said.
The XL Center currently hosts a minor league hockey team, the Hartford Wolfpack. The city of approximately 125,000 previously was home to the Hartford Whalers, an NHL team that relocated from the XL Center to North Carolina in 1997. In 1998, former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft reached a tentative deal to bring Kraft’s NFL team to another location in Hartford, but that proposal ultimately fell through, leaving Connecticut without a major league professional sports franchise.
Malloy and Bronin decided to pitch the XL Center as a potential location for the Islanders after reports that the team’s current venue in Brooklyn, New York, wasn’t counting on revenue from the hockey club beyond the 2018-19 season. In their letter to team officials earlier this month, they said the facility, which currently seats approximately 16,000 people, would be transformed to meet “today’s NHL standards.” They pledged to “develop the building you would be proud to call home.”
Malloy said Friday he has spoken in the past with the NHL commissioner about Hartford possibly hosting a team. He said there are other owner groups, “not exclusively the Islanders” who have expressed interest in learning more about the state’s plans for the XL Center. He did not elaborate.