Can the state afford $250 million for XL Center rehab/expansion?

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HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The state authority that runs the XL Center in Hartford is meeting tonight to consider a quarter a billion dollar plan to renovate and expand the state’s largest indoor sports and concert venue.

But with massive state budget deficits predicted, is this the time for such a big expense?

People come from all across the state for UConn games at the XL Center arena in Hartford. Other events bring people from the shoreline to Western Massachusetts, but the 40-year-old structure is considered way out of date, despite some recent upgrades, and definitely not in the big leagues. It loses money every year.

A quarter billion dollar plan to expand the arena to about 19,000 seats and add more restrooms and restaurants goes before a hearing of the authority that runs the center Tuesday night.

“The building that’s there today is of a fair size, an ideal location. The question is; can we re-boot it. We think we can. We don’t expect to do it tomorrow morning. We recognize budget problems,” said Michael Freimuth, the Executive Director of the Capital Region Development Authority.

The Governor says the cost is justified and can be stretched out over a period of years by bonding and using the state credit card.

“I can’t imagine a Hartford or, quite frankly, the State of Connecticut without an XL Center or it’s equivalent,” said Governor Dannel Malloy.

But Republicans, with their new 18 to 18 equal control with Democrats in the State Senate, may end up flexing their new found muscle on this saying state taxpayers can’t afford it.

“We’re bonding twice as much now, every year, as we did when Dan Malloy took office and it’s starting to catch up with us on debt service and we can’t keep going down that road,” said Sen. Joe Markley (R-Assistant Minority Leader).

UConn’s hockey team plays at the XL Center, as well as the American Hockey League’s Wolf Pack. The National Hockey League Hartford Whalers have been gone almost 20 years. Some in the region still dream about bringing NHL hockey back, but that will never happen without some kind of an upgrade.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the authority that runs the XL Center must formally adopt a renovation plan and then try to sell it to state lawmakers.

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