The XL Center continues to sit at a major crossroad.

By Peter Hindle
Mar. 31, 2017

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A behind the scenes tour of the XL Center proved one thing beyond a reasonable doubt. There's a Herculean effort needed to keep the Capital City's number one entertainment option open for the foreseeable future.

If you are a Whalers fan, as I, it's great to think about the NHL like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I've told everyone who asks me, this "" is going to be a process. A lot of time is needed, a lot of work is needed and a lot of convincing will be needed. However make no mistake this plan is needed with or without the NHL, the 43 year old building has begun to break down.

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-Malloy on Face The State, February 9, 2013

The Governor has his budget and soon the State Legislature will have theirs, all we know for sure is Hartford Hockey fans can count on the NHL never returning if nothing is done to make the XL Center a profitable arena again. One that can hold events, top level concerts, and most importantly it commits UConn to a 20 year lease for 30 games a year between NCAA mens and womens basketball and Hockey East match-ups.

Just this past May the Whaler Guys; Pete Hindle and Jerry Erwin sat in the XL Center Fan Bar with  CRDA Director of Construction Bob Saint and CRDA Director of Venue's Kim Hart. The goal was to learn more about the cracks and leaks in the 40 year old building. Saint broke down the 35 million in repairs and upgrades from three summers ago. The concourse, amenities, rest rooms received 12 million, the buildings infrastructure received 11 million and 7 million went to life-safety and communications upgrades. There was a little left over as a rainy day fund, that may be gone already.

The CRDA in many community meetings for Business for Downtown Hartford described daily issues with infrastructure and mechanical breakdowns. The timing of the transformation plan is just what the city and state needs to avoid timely and costly breakdowns that are waiting to happen over the next year. It's a smart move when you hear about work arounds with equipment and machinery that was constructed over two score and five years; at some point something's got to give.

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-The Whalers Brigade (Youtube)

Saint told a funny story about a leak that developed on the ice sheet that is being replaced this summer. A small hole had developed in the piping system, and while scrambling to repair it an XL engineer had been keeping the pressure by putting his thumb on the leak. This finally wont be a concern next hockey season but this is also far from the buildings biggest needs. Eventually this building is going to run out of work arounds to plug up other systems that will develop new holes.
While the most recent upgrades helped keep the building running and helped to improve some revenue streams, there is still 250 million things to replace or repair in the XL Center. The hope is that the major lifting of repair and upgrade can be done over the summer months for three years. One of those projects is replacing the ice making system this summer. The old system will have to be jack hammered out of the arena floor and the two massive old chillers will be removed from the south west corner of the arena and moved to the north west. There is a long access tunnel that runs north to south and cuts the floor at the halfway point.  It was almost filled with ground water when the CRDA took over. The water was removed and then asbestos from the confined space.  With a new system that archaic way of working the ice sheet will be gone, and the tunnel will be filled with concrete.

Replacing the Ice Sheet making chillers below the arena floor is really solving two problems. The ice sheet was failing but it also had a concrete flooring that was inadequate for supporting the large cranes that will be needed to help construct the second concourse. The ice sheet will be better than the Barclays Center and good for any level of hockey. The piping being used is steel, the Barclays Center has PVC piping which has trouble staying at the required 15 degrees. The electrical is still an issue sometimes one circuit will blow and there are no replacement parts. In one instance they discovered that a company that made the needed replacement parts went out of business in 1991. That means replacing the entire breaker and it turns a $500.00 job into a $10,000-$15,000 dollar one. That would go one for years and the building is still running at a loss now due to its expensive and antiquated power needs. 

The to renovate the XL Center is not to give it cosmetic bells and whistles. The need to repair and update the building is not like getting new rims and a spoiler for your car this is transmission work and a need to replace bald tires. That car is eventually going to leave you on the side of the highway, the region would be better off avoiding that.  

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-XL rafters with Hartford Hockey banners

Hart pointed out that 500,000 visitors came to the XL Center last season. Thats two years in a row and according to the CRDA the XL is already over 400,000 in the last nine months. Spectra, who manages the building has been an integral part in bringing people downtown. It is a good litmus test for what they would be able to do with a state of the art building. With a 60's design and 70's construction building Spectra has had to make lemonade from what is quicly becoming a lemon.
The CRDA team is the right team for the job. If your mind drifts to the Yard Goat stadium horror, remember that was a city goof. Over the last three years of watching Michael Friemuth's team I can tell you they plan it, double check it, and get it done. The right plan is in place, the right team is in place and the upgrades will make the building profitable for the first time in a decade. And perhaps also bring back the NHL.

There is a confluence of good circumstances with upticks in residency and a new UConn campus. Hartford should take advantage of this. All of the Greater Hartford area of Connecticut will feel the sting of regret if the opportunities of today are the "should've would've could've" of tomorrow.

One Timers:

I got a lot of questions on Face Book and Twitter last May and throughout the Whaler Guy social media network. Here are the answers below with some updates:

Ricky- Next summer would The hockey setup be different after all renovations? And For the new boards and glass, do we have to flip sides for the benches and penalty box.  Then we'd see the Pack/Uconn shoot twice on the premium fan bar end?

Thanks
Peter- Saint found the idea interesting but unfortunately it probably won't happen as the locker rooms would have to be moved and that is not in the plan. New boards and glass this summer
will be part of the ice sheet replacement.

P4277(Courant Whaler Message Board)- What needs to be done to bring the building up to NHL standards?

Peter- NHL Standards are just a coincidence. The building needs so much work that by the time the "transformation" is complete the building will be 90% of what the NHL requirements are. The need is really to modernize the revenue streams and upgrade and replace what is needed to run the building safely and efficiently.

brettg1313(Courant Whaler Message Board)- Can you have them show you what behind the scene stuff they will do this summer?

Saint said no large scale renovations would be done this summer(2016). Their are still some spring events to wait on before the ice sheet can be done this summer(2017). They will be able to replace things as they go out like lighting, small repairs etc.

@WhalePack- Robert Saint promised us a new beer dispenser system at concessions he called "bottoms up" which is more efficient with less waste of product. What ever happened to that? Also, although maybe already stated, but is new glass being installed as originally planned during renovations?

Saint did remember that process but in the end they decided against it due to the fact that the price for the specific cups was much more expensive than the current cups.  They decided to go with a system that keeps the beer at an optimum temperature. The beer is pumped up from a cooler below and the lines are cooled as well so no beer siting in the line has time to warm up. When it is poured there is no foam. They estimate that before they had to throw out 20%-30% of the beer due to foam.

Whaleofatime- Ask them if upgrading the dasher system is on their radar.

Peter- Yes, I was told it is definitely happening this summer(2017) along with the ice sheet.

Ryan- Are they going to do anything with the atrium.

Peter- No nothing for this summer(2017), but the atrium is a piece of the entire reconstruction plan. Once complete their will be entertainment options. I'm sure they're be a stat board somewhere.

Wsph Waterbury-New Britain- Can you ask when the 250 million dollar renovation will begin?

Peter- It would be next summer(2018) and would really involve the plan. This summer the ice sheet and new arena floor are needed pieces for the next phase.

Josh- What role does an NHL viable stadium play in its design and further development?

Peter- Purely coincidental, the amount of upgrades will make the XL comparable to any state of the art arena in the country.  The NHL may not return but the building would no longer be a barrier to that potential return.  Think of it as a sundae, you get the sundae no matter what but the NHL would be the cherry.

Ctvintage860- I've seen a picture of the renderings and the seats of the XL Center are green, why would they go with that color?

Peter- At the plan unveil(2/19/15) Murray Beynon head of SCI was giving a presentation and he said that they could make the seats any color they wanted even kelly green and that was the next slide. Green seats as a nod to the Hartford Whalers. The seat colors probably have not been chosen at this point.

Neil- When will the XL Center be NHL ready?  And when it becomes NHL ready we can put in a bid to relocate a team. 

Most of the ice sheet task will be complete by October 2017 but the CRDA did say they hope to get into the heavy lifting by summer 2018 but it is not presented as a guarantee until the budget for it is approved. Once it does happen the only thing Hartford has to do is get a team to sell to a group here or have a team relocate or join a group here.

Thanks for all your questions

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