|Image courtesy of Whalerssports.com|
Since Howard Baldwin came back to town and into the public eye a little over two years ago a lot has changed. He is still here now even though his marketing firm Whaler Sports and Entertainment will apparently not be.
We've seen him create a Whalers Fan Fest that brought out 4,800 people to revisit Hartford Whaler history.
We have seen him complete the re-brand of the Rangers top affiliate to make it more personal in an appeal to a broader Hartford hockey fan base.
We watched as thousands brave the elements in Howard Baldwin's Whale Bowl in February of 2011. The two week outdoor spectacular featured Whaler Alumni, AHL, College, and High School games.
He has rebuilt the corporate interest into the hockey market in Hartford. Large companies within the area like United Health Care, Aetna, Travelers, The Hartford, have signed up to back Howard in his Hartford hockey dream. Now that he is out of the picture will that corporate support step out because they don't want to work with AEG and MSG?
When he returned we heard of his interest in getting an NHL franchise back in Hartford. We've seen and heard that he has spoken to NHL suits and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Today that all seems moot because he is no longer involved with no hockey team. While it was fun to hear NHL talk in the city that hosted an NHL team for 17 years, it's a crash back to reality. How can a city that can't collect trash manage to get an NHL team?
In November 2011, Howard laid down a road map for the downtown area. His plan was to renovate the XL Center and make Hartford a destination city for entertainment and sporting events.
After a cricket like reception from a city the idea that went up in smoke. At least we can now hope that more than a few thousand come to see BC trounce UConn in Hockey East.
The Connecticut Whale will be involved either way but the big client now for the XL Center really will be UConn as they will play college hockey and college basketball in Hartford.
XL Center General Manager Chuck Steedman said in a Hockey East press conference that he will bid on a Hockey East Championship. This is great for UConn and the Hartford area but honestly the big catch would be if a new NHL team could be here within the next five years. Not only would that become the main attraction to the downtown area but new jobs and new businesses would come with it too. By far, the NHL is much more of attraction than the AHL or UConn hockey.
The ink was barely dry on Baldwin's vision for the XL Center when the complaints and negativity is t about dreaming big rolled in. In many respects, it's a Sad, defeated city in which anyone who proposes a big idea is immediately viewed as suspicious as many Hartfordites wallow in misery, take a piss on the big idea and that high five each other on their race to the bottom. No wonder many people just don't feel like Hartford is worth saving.
When the NHL left the estimated loss to the downtown area was $75 million. Can you imagine what that revenue would do for the city if the NHL was here and brining dollars in 41 home games a year?
Hartford sure could use 41 nights of people eating out, buying souvenirs and paying for parking. The idea makes the local business start to drool. When you add in the other events like UConn hockey& basketball, concerts and other XL Center events you realize that Hartford could become a real place to see events.
The tricky part that probably killed the plan was it couldn't pay for itself. The renovation and upgrades to the downtown area are cheaper than it would be to build a new entertainment complex but they are not cheap enough to just get a green light from the powers that be. In fact I can't remember one positive reaction that came from our elected leaders.
Howard's plan called for $105 million restoration and upgrade. The XL Center would have received larger concourses, updated restrooms, updated concession stands, a sports bar, and a team store. It would be fantastic to have but its something that currently looks like a pipe dream. The AHL just does not draw enough money into downtown.
When people walk out the door of the XL Center their money goes with them to the suburbs.
Howard's recent failure with WSE is very disappointing. He had brought interest to revitalizing the downtown area but with him gone expect things to regress to how they were.
The truly sad thing about Hartford is its only the dreamers who bring fresh new and exciting ideas to Hartford. In 2006 it was Northland's Larry Gottsdiener and in 2010 it was Howard Baldwin returning. It will take another dreamer for Hartford to get off its seat and start moving forward. How long that will take it anybody's guess.