XL Center, Rentschler Field Could Be Managed By One Company

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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 XL Center in downtown Hartford. Handout Photo.

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.”

The Stadium at Rentschler Field at its opening in 2003. Photo by Tony Bacewicz/The Hartford Courant.

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.

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12 thoughts on “XL Center, Rentschler Field Could Be Managed By One Company

  1. Saxon9075

    What 70 events a year at Rentschler? They must be counting the 9 UCONN games a year. Not to mention the Annual High School Seniors Game in August, that usually draws about 1000 people/ They must make big money on that one.

    They need more concerts like Springsteen (who recently went to the Meadows, is he having trouble finding 30,000 fans in the area?)There hasn’t been a concert like event that filled the stadium in several years. One problem is the neighboors complain about the traffic and noise of concerts.

    I am all for competent managment but it seems like the bar is set to ensure failure at the Rent.

  2. Peter Hindle

    I think it would be great for the Bushnell to manage both properties when was the last time that both were managed by a local company. AEG is from LA and the hockey team is from NY. Time for Hartford to let local companies challenge and a local owner for hockey. Hartford needs more local identities in the picture.

  3. Rich Jones

    The Rent needs to add at least 15,000 seats to help UConn football survive (if that’s even possible at this point). Both the Rent and XL Center badly need new management. The XL Center in particular is really looking worn out and unappealing.

  4. Saxon9075

    The ‘Rent holds 40,000 people but they lose seats when they put a stage up (do not pick them up from field seating) Is it worth spending more tax dollars on the ‘Rent for UCONN Football when the state is in such financial trouble?

  5. Linda

    Gimmicky. I’m sure these companies are salivating at the prospect of making money, but the question is how do we improve the QOL for the citizens in metro Hartford.
    The XL needs more of an upgrade then is implied by Michael Friemuth. It needs a MAJOR renovation. Really we need a new arena; however it is conceivable to upgrade the XL by 100-120 million versus 350 million for a new arena. We need to to that for UCONN hoops x 2 (or watch the men’s program wither) and for Hockey East. The good news is that, since we must do that for UCONN anyway, we can then market for NHL expansion team (or Nashville, Miami, or Columbus relocation). We need our Mojo back. A 25 million upgrade to celebrate a week of gymnastics and a Miley Cyrus concert won’t cut it. Michael Friemuth is eiher going to be a great leader, or, UCONN hoops and Hartford will continue to wither away. The good news is that we have a chance. Better be very careful as this is the single most important business deal in Hartford for the next 10 years. Better not F it up by going small time.

  6. XL CENTER NEEDS TLC

    Spot on response Linda. UConn will want something done to with the XLC and for everyone’s sake let’s hope they don’t cheap out and responsibly upgrade the XLC to meet the needs of UConn and a potential professional sports team. We can’t just put lipstick on a pig here the XL needs some serious TLC if that can be accomplished for anything around $150 MIL it must be done or the building will become the NH Coliseum and Hartford will have yet another empty parking lot, with no Whale, UConn, etc. That be the final nail in the coffin for Hartford IMO. I’ll repeat Linda’s final remarks.

    “Michael Friemuth is eiher going to be a great leader, or, UCONN hoops and Hartford will continue to wither away. The good news is that we have a chance. Better be very careful as this is the single most important business deal in Hartford for the next 10 years. Better not F it up by going small time.”

  7. thomas

    This is the same company that charges over $100K a GAME for the Hartford Colonials to host ONE GAME. That was DOUBLE the amount of any other team in the league. Heres a pretty simple business logic. Lower the price and then it works for EVERYONE, the tenant, the owners,patrons, concession stand owners EVERYTHING. Then with a lower rental price you will have teams/concerts/special events wanting to come here. The Colonials were doomed since they signed that terrible contract with THE RENT. Theres plenty of overpaid state workers, why cant a couple of them run this state owned field anyways? How hard could it be? The state has lawyers that can draw up rental agreements

  8. mike

    The state, and the region need to get behind fixing the XL center. UConn will need to figure out a way to pay more rent at an upgraded arena as well. but Linco and others are absolutely correct that going small time is the worst thing that can happen in Hartford. It is the center of a metro area of 1.3 Million. $1.9M if you include Springfield. We need a new or completely rebuilt Arena just for UConn. The area would benefit by attracting other activirty to a better designed facility too, but sadly this is not something that this contract will address. this is a change that needs to come from the Govenor and be backed my most of CT. I am hoping the climate for that comes around in the next couple of years as the econemy recovers. For now we will have to be happy with this bandaid approach.

  9. Saxon9075

    A few years ago US Soccer was going to bring a Worldcup qualifying game to Rentschler. They did not because they coud get Dallas Stadium (yep where the Cowboys play) for less and it held more.

    That and a dirty little secret is Gampel Pavillion was built the minimum size necessary for NCAA Div 1 play. That was a political comproise reached with the hartford area politicians so UCONN would have to play most of its games at the XL Center.

  10. Linda

    Band-aid approach is unacceptable. Interest rates are at all-time lows and will not be forever. The economy is in recovery, albeit slow growth. Unlike tax breaks for hedge funds and fortune 100 companies (Gov first five) this presents actual investment. Construction will create jobs and so will increased usage at each facility. Increased attendance will also add to business and government bottom-line. Lastly, this is about identity and making a statement.
    To accomplish the above requires leadership, leadership, leadership. And the Governor cannot abdicate his role in favor of quasi-government body (what the hell is the CRDA anyway, but an abandonment of responsibility?).
    There is plenty of opportunity to augment the public investment with private investment (e.g. Aetna, The Hartford, Travelers, CIGNA, UTC, UCONN alumni). Again, this will require leadership.
    We CANNOT let the “economy” be an excuse to go small time or apply a bandaid.
    AND WHY HAS THE COURANT LET THE GOVERNOR OFF THE HOOK ON THIS ISSUE?? They paraded than crucified Howard Baldwin, but haven’t said boo about the Governor.

  11. Steve

    I agree with the other commenters. We need a new arena. It could even be located at the Rent’s site. But we do need it or the XL Center will end up like the New Haven Colisseum.

Comments are closed.