XL Center could be a hockey destination

It would be indiscreet, not to mention inaccurate, to label the XL Center in Hartford as a dump. Nah. It's more like a Toyota with 200,000 miles. Functional, practical, reliable. But no Beamer.

This is why opinions vary whether the Toyota needs to be replaced, tuned up or left alone. Poor, overburdened taxpayers look at the state budget deficit and harrumph about superfluous spending. The Optimists' Club says a new building is needed, especially if the National Hockey League is ever to return.

Let's try the middle: A tuck here and an implant there never hurt anyone.

And a preliminary meeting, full of discussion about enhancing Hartford's big room, is about to happen.

Spies close to the situation say that Paul Pendergast will be among the dramatis personae, contributing his expertise (read: finding the money) that will help improve the building, perhaps by the time UConn's foray into big time hockey begins in 2014.

Attempts to reach Pendergast were unsuccessful. This much we know, however: There is no denying that he is the greatest fundraiser in the history of our state. Period. Trophy retired. And if it is the wish of state poohbahs to give the XL Center a tummy tuck using private money, Pendergast, the former interim athletic director and now the university's top fundraiser, is the man to make it happen.

Former athletic director Lew Perkins was smart enough to hire Pendergast as the athletic department's Director for Marketing and Corporate Relations and later the department's development director. From 1998-2006, private giving to athletics was nearly $15 million annually.

In his time as the interim athletic director, donors Peter and Pamela Werth, who had an existing relationship with Pendergast, gave $4.5 million to the new practice facility. Pendergast did more toward moving the shovel closer to dirt in a month than predecessor Jeff Hathaway did during his entire tenure.

Everyone with money in Connecticut knows Pendergast. Even better: They like him and respect him. There is no reason to doubt he'll find the funds to make improvements to the XL Center painless to taxpayers.

This is welcome news.

Not just to silence the Cold Water Committee - you know: the people who hate everything - but as an illustration that UConn is on board with turning the XL Center into a more modern building. It would make for a better experience for men's and women's basketball, too.

It's doubtful a new building is forthcoming. A potentially new XL Center would look more like what has transpired at Madison Square Garden. If you haven't seen MSG lately, you've missed newer, wider concourses, hallways and seats, new bathrooms, better amenities, more food choices, new locker rooms to come (and a killer new press room). The XL Center could use all of the above.

Now that Howard Baldwin is out, UConn is in. Or at least sniffing around. Baldwin and Whalers Sports & Entertainment had their chance to make their product relevant enough to invite change. Baldwin's turn at the plate produced a pop up to shortstop, likely ending the night that outdoor hockey game at Rentschler Field turned into a dud.

Chuck Steedman, XL Center senior vice president and general manager, was quoted recently saying that one day, he'd love the building to host the Hockey East Tournament. No problem with aiming high. But to wrest that tournament from the TD Garden, in the perfect location, would require a better building than currently exists.

And if the place ever gets a facelift, who knows about the NHL one day?

It has been suggested that a new building would be more attractive to the entire state if it were built in a more central location. There sure seems to be land, lots of land under starry skies above in the area off Interstate 91 between Meriden and Middletown. Wouldn't it be a hoot if someone with vision had the idea for our version of "Patriot Place," with hotels, shops and restaurants all around a new building?

But I digress.

Here's what we know: Gov. Malloy loves the move to Hockey East. If he's smart (he'd have to be as a BC grad, after all) he calls Paul Pendergast and tells him what Major Winchester said once to Radar O'Reilly: "Get on the phone and do whatever voodoo you do."

And let Pendergast do what he does better than everyone else.

Stay tuned.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


Loading comments...
Hide Comments

Stories that may interest you

Volunteering at Jennings was just what Mr. Mike needed

This was Friday at Jennings School, which I like to call my new family. The last day. And so, all the administrators, teachers, staff (and me, the two-day-a-week cafeteria boy) are all out there waving as the kids embark on summer vacation.