Concerned that the state would lose more than $3.5 million a year through 2013 on its lease of the city-owned Hartford Civic Center, the Connecticut Development Authority decided late in 2005 to test the market and see if anyone could do better.
Three groups said they could, and the authority today is expected to pick one of them. Although the future of professional hockey in Hartford has garnered a lot of attention, the decision has more to do with the operation of the arena.
Bidders include: the center's current operator, Madison Square Garden; a partnership between downtown's largest landowner, Northland Investment Corp., and AEG Worldwide of Los Angeles; and a partnership between former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin and Global Spectrum of Philadelphia.
Each party submitted a plan to manage the center on the authority's behalf for a fee; Northland also submitted a plan to assume the operations, expenses and possible upside entirely.
When it came to hockey, the three groups had three different thoughts: MSG stressed the American Hockey League's long-term viability in Hartford with the Wolf Pack; Baldwin emphasized the AHL as a building block to the National Hockey League; and Northland's Lawrence R. Gottesdiener said the way to go is to have an AHL team while trying to buy an NHL franchise.
When it came to managing the arena, each team brought an array of proposals, from capital and concession improvements to strategies to boost attendance.
The authority hopes to have a deal in place by the end of the month. Its members have had plenty to think about.
"Do we like [Northland's alternative plan] because it's different than the rest of them? If it is, then it's an easy decision," said board Vice Chairman Richard T. Mulready at a meeting last week. That plan limits the state's possible losses on the arena. "But if we want to look more at potential upside, then the other three come into the mix."
"Do you believe that Northland's investment and AEG's content ... bring more to the mix? Or that Global [and Baldwin bring] a whole range of services, more than anyone else? Or do you like the fact that ... MSG has run this facility, we think, well for the last nine or 10 years, and has thrown money back to us?"
"Whatever decision we ultimately make," Mulready said, "we're not going to make a bad one."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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