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Friday, December 30, 2005

Bring back the Whale!

Oh, how cool would it be if the NHL came back to Hartford. Well, it might become a reality.

From The Hartford Courant
Amid debate over the future of the Hartford Civic Center, a major downtown developer said Wednesday that he wants to build a new, publicly subsidized, $250 million sports and entertainment arena in the city - and that he's even looking into buying an NHL hockey team to fill it.

"We've got our own money, we're willing to invest in an arena, and we're willing to buy a team," said Lawrence R. Gottesdiener, head of Northland Investment Corp., which has a Hartford real estate portfolio worth $500 million.


Gottesdiener's proposal would be to build a 16,000-seat sports and entertainment arena that could support a major league hockey team, as well as University of Connecticut men's and women's basketball.

The site of the current arena is too small for a new facility, Gottesdiener said. Among the potential locations for a new facility are over I-84, and a city-owned parcel at Main and Trumbull streets known as 12B.

"We like the arena where it is, but it's too flawed and the footprint is too small," he said. "It's an eyesore in the heart of the city and it's competent from the inside, but it's not nice. It's not a nice experience walking into those concourses and the concrete floors ... inadequate bathrooms, steep stairwells, below-average food - it's OK, we've gotten used to it."

More important, though, the coliseum as a building sucks the life out of that part of downtown Hartford, he said.

"If the next wave of development in Hartford is to the west, then you want to unclog this clog in the central artery in the heart of the city," he said.

Persuading an NHL franchise to move to Hartford - and winning league approval for the move - has long been a dream of many in the area and might prove challenging.

But Gottesdiener said NHL hockey is not essential to make the new venue financially viable, he said.

"If properly done, the UConn men's and women's basketball could be an anchor tenant supplemented by a great series of entertainment," Gottesdiener said.

That said, he is still pursuing parallel paths - looking into both minor league AHL and major league NHL franchises, he said, adding that he has spoken to the city, two state agencies and investment bankers who are working with NHL teams.

He said his talks about an NHL team have led him to the conclusion that teams in the Northeast aren't ripe for buying, but underperforming teams elsewhere are. "What you're really looking for is some of the Sun Belt teams ... and bringing one of those back north," Gottesdiener said.

Since I was raised in Hartford's North-end, I can tell you that the Hartford Civic Center is nothing more than a eyesore. It's location in the center of downtown is horrible, nobody ever shopped in that place as most of the stores sucked, and the place ruined the rest of the city with the number of arena parking lots that littered the surounding area.

They never should of rebuilt that place when it collasped after the blizzard in the late 70s but they had little choice because it was new at the time. If they were smart back then, they would moved the Center to a better location like where the present convention center is located.

In any case, if Hartford gets a NHL team, I really hope they name it the Whalers again, those uniforms were cool to wear back in the day...