Scott’s thoughts on The XL Center and Rentschler Field and the new management group
THE BUILDING BLOCKS ARE IN PLACE
Thursday the Capital Region Development Authority made the announcement we’d waited months to hear, awarding the contracts to manage the XL Center and Rentschler Field to Philadelphia based Global Spectrum. I don’t hesitate to admit the decision surprised me. Then, not so much now. It was always a difficult bidding process to get a handle on, the CRDA, to it’s credit, keeping a tight lid on the proceedings while the principles in each bidding group, originally five, respected the authority’s desire to keep the particulars in-house. It was a difficult process to sit on the sidelines during, with long standing relationships within each of the final three bidding groups. Chuck Steedman, the XL Center general manager under AEG, has been a friend since he went right from college to the sports information office at UConn. Observing him through a career that’s taken him through broadcast network management and membership in the ownership group of the Boston Red Sox, Chuck has always demonstrated the highest level of business competence and he did an exemplary job at the XL Center. I count at least three members of the Bushnell group as close friends, including Bushnell CFO Mike Fresher. There was never any doubt that their hearts are in this market, and their efforts would always be directed to best serving it. I’m one of the few remaining members of the Connecticut media who knew Frank Russo, who headed the Global Sprectrum effort with the CRDA, when he replaced original Civic Center director Byron Trimble on Trimble’s untimely passing in 1975. Russo oversaw the rebuilding of the Civic Center following the roof collapse in 1978. He understands the facility and it’s capabilities. “The XL Center needs $16 million in improvements right away”, Russo told the WTIC Sportstalk audience last night, “We have a plan to do that.” He put that immediate emphasis on such things as concessions, premium seating, portable stands and family activities, areas that can immediately begin to generate revenue. The state is in the process of approving those plans. Hockey, keeping an AHL team as a primary tenant, was important to the authority throughout the bidding process and Global Spectrum came up big in that area, having just taken over management of the new, soon to be NHL arena, in Hamilton, Ontario. Global Spectrum’s parent company also owns the Philadelphia Flyers. Russo pledged to have a deal with an AHL team in place within “a couple of weeks”, saying the first priority is a new agreement with MSG, to keep the New York Rangers franchise here with Global Spectrum operating, marketing and managing the team to make profit goals more reachable than they were under the unweildy weight of the XL Center lease agreement. “All numbers will run through our budget and the CRDA budget”, says Russo, who says the target average attendance figure for AHL games is seven thousand, “Which we think we can achieve.” The takeover of Rentschler Field is scheduled for July 1st, the XL Center management change on September 1st. While he says they respect the incumbent, Russo says Global Spectrum has already begun work on scheduling events for both. “Hartford has great potential”, said Russo, “And the XL Center, even though it has aged, is the kind of facility we excel at.” It was a difficult process to watch from afar, with information coming through an eyedropper, but now that the lid has come off it’s hard to disagree with the direction the CRDA took or the decision it made. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.