March Madness is coming back to Hartford’s XL Center for the first time since 1998. The NCAA announced Tuesday that first and second round games will be played in the capital in 2019.
"It’s a big deal," said Chris Rogers of Ellington, who was having a drink at the Tavern Downtown across from the stadium Tuesday. "I love that. Yeah I'd go."
The Russian Lady tavern, which Amanda Fromerth manages, is next door. She thinks that these games will generate big business.
"All of the hotels in the area are booked so we get people from the time we open at 11:30 am all the way until the time we close," Fromerth said. "It’s still two years away, but it's huge for us."
Unlike other events, the NCAA doesn't permit the sale of alcohol during the men’s basketball tournament. So if you aren't in a restricted area like a private suite, you have to go outside of the building to get a drink.
"Before some of the big games like that, we can get 500 or 600 people here," Fromerth said. "It’s great for us—especially at a time where we normally may not have people."
Michael Freimuth runs the Capital Regional Development Authority, which oversees XL Center operations. He thinks that the event can make at least $8 million for Hartford, depending on the matchups.
"If you get some schools coming out of Pennsylvania, New York, and New England, we will do far better than if we get schools that are coming across country," Freimuth said.
Earlier this year, Governor Malloy revealed a three-year, $250 million proposal to rebuild the XL Center. But Freimuth said that won’t affect the 2019 tournament and that none of the 16,000 seats in the arena will be compromised.
"Could you build the building in phases and basically do the heavy lifting in the months when the building generally is dark? The answer to that is yes," Freimuth said. "The penalty for that is that it takes longer and you pay a higher construction cost."
It was also announced on Tuesday that other NCAA championship events will be coming to the area. Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport will host an NCAA Division I hockey regional next year, while the NCAA Division I Final Four in men’s lacrosse will be decided at East Hartford’s Rentschler Field in 2021.