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Sports Commentary 1/8/13

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HARTFORD’S NEXT STEP

At the moment nobody’s talking and misinformation is more plentiful than information, but one thing we do know is we’re approaching the finish line in the competition to claim management control of Hartford’s XL Center. With at least three, as many as four, management groups meeting the Downtown Redevelopment Authority’s deadline for presenting bids, the decision could come by the end of the month, with reports ranging from January 16th to February 1st. “It could come that soon”, Governor Dannell Malloy told the Ray Dunaway audience on WTIC this morning, “But there could be some additional discussion.” At least one of the bidding groups, the group headed by the Bushnell and Laz Parking, will reconvene tomorrow, possibly to prepare an addition to their proposal. In addressing the issue Malloy downplayed a report that he’s actively pursuing an NHL team for Connecticut, calling it “a reach”, but adding he expects several teams could be moved in the next year or two. “I’m not holding my breath”, he cautioned. While Malloy is playing it close to the vest, he’s a well known hockey enthusiast and some NHL insiders are of the opinion he might one day be a candidate to succeed commissioner Gary Bettman. No matter what happens next the XL Center will be a key component. Discussions with some NHL insiders last week turned up a short list of current NHL facilities they consider not to be as well equipped as the Hartford facility, but Malloy offered that, in it’s current condition, “The XL Center would not be acceptable.” The prospective management firms were asked to address any plans for retrofitting the current facility or, even, building a new one. At least one, the Bushnell-Laz parking group, offered a retrofit design. “It’s going to take a lot of (private) money”, said one member of the group, “We’re not counting on public funds, and we do have some interested people.” Meanwhile the current AEG model appears to be that everything has to turn a profit. A benefit to the market that should make the Bushnell group attractive to the authority, which will have the primary input while the final decision could rest with Malloy, is a philosophy of filling as many as 90 dates just for the sake of bringing activity to downtown Hartford in hopes of returning some of the sizzle of the Whalers years, with or without a profit, while using the other dates to make the money for the facility. “Revitalization is the key to the success of that part of the city”, said a source within the group, “Howard Baldwin made a pitch for that, but without any teeth.” To that end the Bushnell group appears to be the one with the most interest in continuing the relationship with the current American Hockey League tenant, other bidders showing less interest in having a hockey team eating up dates next season. The committee should consider those two elements, downtown revitalization and a continued relationship with the AHL, as critical to any chance of upgrading our status to major league in the future, and keep them in mind when making their recommendation. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

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