Two of the Hartford area’s largest entertainment venues — the XL Center and the Stadium at Rentschler Field — are less than five miles apart and now, they could be managed by the same company.
The Capital Regional Development Authority is seeking proposals to manage the two venues and is floating the idea that it might be less expensive to have one manager, rather than two. A coordinated strategy also could better attract sports and entertainment events to the area and boost the venues already significant economic impact on the area, the authority said.
“What we’re trying to discern here is, ‘Are there economies if they are under one roof,” Michael Freimuth, the CRDA’s executive director, told me today. “That’s an unknown. We’ll have to find that out through the [Request for Proposal] process.”
Freimuth said it is a good crossroads to explore the option. The contracts are expiring as of August, 2013, and the CRDA is just newly-formed. Freimuth himself has just been on the job a few weeks.
“It’s always important to hit the refresh button and put it out to the market,” Freimuth told me. “We may end up where we are.”
AEG Management CT, LLC assumed full responsibility for managing the XL Center in 2010 when its partner, Northland Investment Corp, gave up its interest in the venture. This summer, AEG also took over management of the American Hockey League’s Connecticut Whale.
East Hartford’s Rentschler Field has been managed by Hartford-based Bushnell Management Services LLC since early 2010.
Bushnell, a division of Hartford’s Bushnell, was selected as manager after the state decided to exercise an option to rebid the venue’s management contract after three years of a five-year contract, hoping to boost the number of events. Bushnell beat out the Northland/AEG partnership that had been managing Rentschler and others in the bidding.
Wednesday, both AEG and Bushnell told me they would be interested in the bidding on both facilities.
“We are certainly interested in operating both the XL Center and Rentschler Field and have tremendous familiarity with both,” Chuck Steedman, senior vice president and general manager of AEG Connecticut, said, in a prepared statement. “Since the RFPs were issued just a couple of hours ago, we want to take the time to properly digest and familiarize ourselves with the contents and parameters of the entire process.”
Steedman said AEG has invested millions of dollars in the region and has worked to bring “world-class sports and entertainment content” to the XL Center.
“AEG is extremely proud of its accomplishments and is eager to continue building on these successes well into the future,” Steedman said.
Michael Fresher, general manager of Bushnell Management, didn’t hesitate when asked about Bushnell’s intentions.
“We will be bidding on the XL Center,” Fresher said. “In the past 2-1/2 years, we have shown the ability to increase events and run [Rentschler] effectively.”
Fresher said events at Rentschler have doubled under its management, increasing from an average of 70 a year since opening to 148 last year. Bushnell has concentrated on bolstering smaller events and tried the unconventional: moving the Hartford Symphony’s annual gala to Rentschler from The Bushnell in downtown Hartford.
“There are only so many U2s, Rolling Stones and Springsteens that you can book,” Fresher said.
Freimuth said XL Center has performed well in recent years compared with similar venues of its size, but “the general feeling is that the XL Center has to do more.”
While Rentschler is relatively new — the stadium opened in 2003 — the XL Center is an aging structure, opened in 1975 as the Hartford Civic Center.
Freimuth envisions “tens of millions of dollars” in major updates, including possibly reconfiguring concessions so they face into the arena, common in the design of new arenas. Concessions need to be expanded with increased offerings of food and drink. Restrooms need an overhaul and expansion, he said.