UConn Taps P3 for On-Cam­pus Hockey Arena

The Bond Buyer - - Front Page - By Paul Burton

The Uni­ver­sity of Con­necti­cut, look­ing to ex­pand its hockey pres­ence at its flag­ship Storrs cam­pus, in­tends to build a $45 mil­lion arena us­ing a pub­lic-pri­vate devel­op­ment part­ner­ship.

UConn’s board of trus­tees ap­proved the mea­sure for the rink, which the uni­ver­sity hopes to open in fall 2021.

The new build­ing, which could sit from 2,500 to 3,500 peo­ple de­pend­ing upon de­sign, will sit ad­ja­cent to the 2,000-seat Fre­itas Ice Fo­rum. Its fa­cil­i­ties and ice will meet Na­tional Col­le­giate Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion Divi­sion I ice hockey re­quire­ments and Hockey East As­so­ci­a­tion reg­u­la­tions, UConn said in a state­ment.

UConn still ex­pects to play a ma­jor­ity of its home games at the XL Cen­ter in down­town Hart­ford. Fre­itas will still func­tion for prac­tices and other events.

XL Cen­ter, for­merly the Hart­ford Civic Cen­ter, hosts many UConn men’s and women’s bas­ket­ball games, con­certs and the Hart­ford Wolf Pack, the Amer­i­can Hockey League af­fil­i­ate of the New York Rangers. It was the home of the Na­tional Hockey League’s Hart­ford Whalers be­fore the fran­chise moved to North Carolina in 1997.

UConn also ex­pects to re­al­ize “sig­nif­i­cant rev­enue” for the new build­ing an­nu­ally from ice time rentals to com­mu­nity groups, youth hockey leagues, and other or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Its fi­nanc­ing plan en­vi­sions the cre­ation of a spe­cial-pur­pose en­tity as the legally bind­ing ve­hi­cle for the devel­op­ment part­ner­ship. The de­vel­oper will cre­ate the en­tity, and will be re­spon­si­ble for build­ing the fa­cil­ity and stay­ing on schedule. Once it’s open, UConn will op­er­ate it.

To pay for the new rink, said UConn, the en­tity will is­sue $22.5 mil­lion in tax-ex­empt bonds for the pro­ject. UConn will pay $1.6 mil­lion an­nu­ally on the debt, though the $400,000-plus the uni­ver­sity ex­pects to re­ceive as its share of gross rev­enue from rink rentals could help off­set that.

UConn will use $12.5 mil­lion tem­po­rar­ily from its re­serves as a cash ad­vance, with the amount to be paid back through phi­lan­thropy and ath­let­ics rev­enue. Scott Jor­dan, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent for ad­min­is­tra­tion and chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, said many col­leges do like­wise to fund cap­i­tal projects.

The other $10 mil­lion will come from rev­enue UConn is re­ceiv­ing through the sale of the for­mer West Hart­ford cam­pus af­ter it moved the cam­pus to down­town Hart­ford, and the sale of the Nathan Hale Inn at its Storrs cam­pus.

Bond­ing for the pro­ject will be out­side the UConn2000 in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ment pro­gram, uni­ver­sity of­fi­cials said.

“We’re send­ing a mes­sage to the world that we’re se­ri­ous about this,” Jor­dan told trus­tees.

Un­der state statutes, in­come the uni­ver­sity re­ceives from sell­ing prop­er­ties must go back into cap­i­tal projects – which would in­clude the ice rink – and can­not be used for op­er­at­ing ex­penses.

Ath­letic di­rec­tor David Bene­dict said one donor has al­ready ex­pressed in­ter­est in con­tribut­ing $6 mil­lion for the pro­ject.

Ac­cord­ing to Bene­dict, hav­ing on-cam­pus games could also help build the stu­dent fan base – which could trans­late to more stu­dents tak­ing buses to Hart­ford games, as they do for some bas­ket­ball games. In ad­di­tion, bet­ter prac­tice fa­cil­i­ties could ap­peal to re­cruits.

“New Eng­land is a bit more into hockey, and ev­ery­where uni­ver­si­ties are look­ing at sports as a way to at­tract stu­dents,” said Randy Ger­ardes, a di­rec­tor at Wells Fargo Se­cu­ri­ties. “We’ve clearly seen that with big-time foot­ball at places like the Uni­ver­sity of Alabama, where en­roll­ment has gone up.

“In this case, you’re look­ing at a means to pro­vide ac­cess to the stu­dent body,” Ger­ardes said. “UConn has ob­vi­ously had a lot of suc­cess with its ath­letic pro­grams, led by its women’s bas­ket­ball team.”

While bas­ket­ball dom­i­nates UConn ath­let­ics — the women’s team has won a record 11 NCAA cham­pi­onships, the men’s team four — men’s hockey has made in­roads.

The Huskies, which en­tered top-tier Divi­sion I for the 1998-99 sea­son, joined Hockey East in 2014. Hockey East is one of the na­tion’s pre­mier con­fer­ences. Mem­ber schools Boston Col­lege, Boston Uni­ver­sity, the Uni­ver­sity of Maine and Providence Col­lege have won a com­bined 13 na­tional ti­tles.

UConn last year fin­ished fifth in the 11-mem­ber league, its best show­ing to date. It also placed fifth in home at­ten­dance, av­er­ag­ing 4,066 fans per game.

UConn’s women’s team has played in Hockey East since 2002-03, two sea­sons af­ter join­ing Divi­sion I. Nei­ther the men nor the women have made the sport’s NCAA tour­na­ment.

School of­fi­cials re­ceived from Hockey East a waiver to the league re­quire­ment for a min­i­mum on-cam­pus seat­ing re­quire­ment of 4,000 seats.

“One of the chal­lenges of sta­dium con­struc­tion over­all is right-siz­ing. You don’t want to over­build for some­thing,” Ger­ardes said. “It’s a bal­anc­ing act.”

Na­tion­ally, col­lege hockey at­ten­dance has dropped the past few years. Ob­servers of the sport have ref­er­enced live steam­ing, high ticket prices in some mar­kets, con­fer­ence re­align­ment and chang­ing stu­dent-body de­mo­graph­ics.

Jor­dan said the uni­ver­sity is also com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing the park­ing ca­pac­ity in the ath­let­ics district on cam­pus, and will re­quire that park­ing for about 750 ve­hi­cles must be avail­able ad­ja­cent to the new arena. ◽

Stephen Slade / Uni­ver­sity of Con­necti­cut

Con­necti­cut’s Wy­att New­power, left, and Maine’s Mitchell Fossier bat­tle dur­ing Hockey East game in Hart­ford. UConn in­tends to build a $45 mil­lion arena.

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