Less than 200 miles down the thruway, travelers will find the newly constructed HarborCenter, a development featuring two NHL-sized ice rinks and a direct connection to a third rink at the First Niagara Center, the home of the Buffalo Sabres. The HarborCenter has helped move Buffalo to the forefront in sport recreation tournament-based play across the region, as well as helped the city to secure national events such as the NHL’s Player Combine and the upcoming 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Buffalo is just one example of a city utilizing sports and entertainment to revitalize its livelihood and attract a steady influx of regional visitors. Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., along with CEO of Mohawk Valley Garden Robert Esche, look to replicate a similar model in Utica with The U District, a vision that will transform downtown into a hub for foot traffic and quality of life living. The Nexus Center, a multi-use facility for sport recreation tournament-based play, will highlight the district, along with an American Craft Beer Museum and Innovation Center and additional arts, sports and entertainment amenities.
A project that has been in the works for years, The U District hits home for Esche in more ways than one. “Sports and entertainment has always been the driving force in my life and the fact that we can bring development in these fields to my hometown is a true honor,” Esche explained. “This successful model exists all across the country on different scales and there is extensive evidence that Utica is more than ready to support the needs of the district in order to create a mutualistic relationship.”
Outside of the state of New York, countless cities have expanded their culture by adding sports and entertainment to their tourism models. The Gateway District in Cleveland, Ohio, attracts over five million annual visitors and is anchored by both the Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA) and Cleveland Monsters (AHL). Los Angeles, California, is home to LA Live!, a $2.5 billion dollar complex that opened in 2007 and caters to four professional sports teams. And Indianapolis, Indiana, was able to host the Super Bowl by investing $3 billion in tourism-related infrastructure to construct a new airport, convention center, Fieldhouse for the Pacers, Lucas Oil Stadium and outdoor event plaza.
These are the proven models of success for sports and entertainment-related development. But what is even more eye-opening is when one considers how many cities are currently undergoing projects that are expected to be completed in the next couple of years. A $250 million dollar project is underway in Dallas, Texas, called Texas Live! that is again built around the success of a professional sports team – the Texas Rangers. The 200,000 square foot area will be used for restaurants, retail and entertainment, in addition to a 5,000-capacity venue for outdoor events and concerts. Milwaukee is also currently undergoing a 30-acre developmental project dubbed the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center that is highlighted by a new arena for the Bucks.
The District Detroit, along undergoing construction efforts, will be 50 blocks of tourism-related activity, housing four teams in three professional sporting venues. The new NHL arena will open in time for the 2017-18 hockey season. And announced earlier this week, AEG plans to create a mixed-use entertainment district in Nashville called Nashville Yards, which will redevelop 15 acres in the downtown area and play off of the Nashville Predators.
The trend is easy to spot – that these vibrant districts most often build off of the success of a professional sports team. The success of the Utica Comets over the past four years is undeniable and an asset that should be capitalized on in regard to future development. By analyzing our market demographics and scaling the project accordingly, The U District has the energy and forward trajectory needed to elevate Utica onto the scale of the Buffalos, the Detroits, and the Nashvilles of the world.