October 8, 2018

Where gubernatorial candidates stand on CRDA

Financial woes

In fiscal 2018, the XL Center had an operating loss of $2.9 million, attributed to seven cancelled/unsuccessful events and the addition of a state event admissions tax halfway through the fiscal year, according to CRDA. During the 2017-18 year, the building required a $600,000 operating subsidy from the state.

Connecticut Convention Center's attendance (363,279) and operating revenues ($3.7 million) both fell in fiscal 2018 by 1.2 percent and 13.1 percent, respectively, CRDA's latest annual report shows.

Hartford Business Journal asked the three major gubernatorial candidates about their views of the Capital Region Development Authority and some of the key assets it oversees, including the XL Center.

Democratic candidate Ned Lamont said CRDA is an important entity and he favors its public-private approach to Hartford development.

"We've got to keep investing in the city," he said, while also acknowledging that funding will be tight. "I mean, this city is really on the cusp of something important and I've got to make sure you have housing here, that you have quality schools here."

In terms of the XL Center, Lamont said the aging Hartford arena should be overhauled by private investors, with state oversight, rather than investing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the venue.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanoskwi agreed that the state needs to look at private-sector options for refurbishing XL Center. He also acknowledged CRDA's role in revitalizing the city.

"The CRDA has a vital role to play to ensure it attracts private investment into Hartford and they have had some success in doing that," he said. "However, any time taxpayer dollars are used, we must ensure that they are fully accounted for and spent wisely."

Unaffiliated candidate Oz Griebel is most familiar with CRDA having been the former head of the MetroHartford Alliance.

He said he's a big fan of the agency and the work it's done in the city, but is uncertain how much state money should go into XL Center.

He said he'd bring together major employers in the Hartford region and ask how important the facility is to them and their workforce.

"If it's important to talent retention we should get employers to invest in it," said Griebel, who added he'd like to see more private-sector investment in CRDA deals.

Before the state puts more money into entertainment facilities, there needs to be a strategy to increase attendance at them, he said, including long-term commitments for more UConn games at XL Center. "I'm a fan of CRDA," Griebel said. "It's not the structure of the agency that is the issue, it's the assets they manage."

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