Despite the pandemic, UConn has made significant progress in the construction of its new athletics district complex. Elliot Ballpark is finished, as is the new Morrone Stadium. The performance center is nearing completion while work is underway on both the new softball stadium and practice field.
Now, the final piece of the district is inching closer to reality — the hockey arena. On Sep. 17, UConn sent out a request for proposals to build the new rink which includes new information about the project.
The total capacity (standing room and seating) of the arena is 2,700 which will include 1,450 chair-backs as well as “bench seating, rail seats, dedicated club level seating, lounge seating, and a standing room only deck area for students.” There will be 360 parking spaces available in I-Lot for use of the arena.
The target construction date is April 2021 with substantial completion wanted by October 2022. If everything stays on track, the arena would open in December 2022. If construction is not substantially complete by October 2022, the company in charge of construction will be charged $500 every day until it reaches the threshold.
The construction budget for the new arena is $48 million — three million dollars more than the initial plan — as well as $5 million for the necessary improvements to I-Lot.
UConn had renderings of the new arena on display in the Ice Level Lounge at the XL Center during the team’s game against UNH in February:
Here are the initial renderings for UConn hockey's proposed new arena. More details in this thread: pic.twitter.com/D9lMQqlgQ9— Daniel Connolly (@DanielVConnolly) February 1, 2020
At the time, plans called for horseshoe-style seating with an ice level lounge on one end and a standing-room-only balcony above. It also included an open concourse around the top of the stands with the student section situated in the seats behind the goal.
However, a Board of Trustees document from Sep. 30 included a new rendering of the exterior of the arena.
When UConn joined Hockey East in 2013, it promised to build an on-campus rink within four years since Freitas Ice Forum doesn’t meet the conference’s requirements for men’s hockey, though Hockey East eventually backed off of that timeframe.
In September 2018, the UConn Board of Trustees approved a plan to build a new 2,500-seat arena with 500 seat-backs in Storrs with the option to expand to 3,500 seats if necessary. Though Hockey East requires arenas to hold at least 4,000, UConn received a waiver for the project since the expectation is for the Huskies’ men’s hockey program to continue to play most of its games at the XL Center in Hartford.
This past April, the Environmental Impact Evaluation from University Planning, Design and Construction indicated the arena seating capacity would be increased to 3,500 with 1,750 seat-backs, though that was the only reference to a capacity that large.
The new arena was initially expected to be connected to Freitas Ice Forum, though the newest renderings show it will be located roughly 100 yards from the existing rink.
Originally, half the cost of the rink would be split with a developer, who would build, operate, and own the arena. But now, UConn will control the entire project.
Though UConn already has an on-campus rink in Freitas Ice Forum, it holds just 1,500 people with no seat-backs. It’s also an antiquated building, with just one office for each of the program’s assistant coaches and little excess space, forcing the teams to stretch in the lobby of the building.
A new arena will also be a huge boon for UConn men’s hockey’s recruiting efforts. Though the Huskies have been successful on the recruiting trail and are coming off their best season in program history, they struggle to get the elite local players — many of whom refuse to even consider UConn without a proper on-campus arena.
Finally having a state-of-the-art, on-campus arena should be a game-changer for the Huskies, a program that’s already on the rise.