Albany, NY (June 14, 2013)
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that Utica Memorial Auditorium is the new home to an American Hockey League (AHL) team – the Utica Comets. The Comets, which will be the minor league affiliate of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Vancouver Canucks, will kick off their inaugural season in downtown Utica this fall.
“The arrival of the Utica Comets to the Mohawk Valley is exciting news for the City of Utica and local hockey fans,” Governor Cuomo said. “As the future home of the Comets, the new and improved Utica Memorial Auditorium will provide an instant boost to the local economy. The Aud has been a staple of downtown Utica, and our investment will make it a more competitive venue for other events, attracting more visitors and driving long-term economic activity for local businesses. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend a warm welcome to the Comets who I am sure will do us proud and look forward to their first game on home ice this fall.”
The State’s investment in renovating and modernizing the 4,000-seat Utica Memorial Auditorium, locally known as the “Aud,” was critical to the team management’s decision to move to Utica. The Aud will be enhanced to meet professional hockey standards while improving the facility for Utica College’s hockey teams and fans, and make the Aud more competitive for other non-hockey events such as concerts, trade shows, and other athletic events, helping to spur economic activity in downtown Utica and for local businesses. Additionally, the Comets’ move to Utica will create 54 new jobs, including front office positions, coaches, players, trainers and equipment managers, as well as 34 new part-time jobs on the days of games and events.
“Vancouver is a first class organization, and we are proud to partner with them here in Utica to develop their future NHL talent,” said Frank DuRoss. “It’s exciting to bring a new team into the Mohawk Valley with its great fans and long tradition of professional hockey.”
“As someone who benefitted greatly from playing in the AHL on the way to the NHL, I know how important the AHL experience is to player development,” Robert Esche said. “We will make this a top-notch experience for the both the Canucks, and their prospects. This is a new beginning for pro hockey in Utica and for the Aud – thanks to New York State the players and fans will have a first-class arena.”
With support from Governor Cuomo, Empire State Development and the Legislature, the Aud will be renovated inside and out. Infrastructure improvements include enhancing the arena’s façade, HVAC updates, and electrical system upgrades. Additionally, the resources will be used to construct new locker rooms—both home and away, a work out facility, medical facility, players’ lounge, upgrades to food service areas, a new video scoreboard and hospitality club boxes.
The Utica Comets franchise brings the number of AHL clubs located in New York State to six, joining the Rochester Americans, Syracuse Crunch, Binghamton Senators, Albany Devils and Adirondack Phantoms in the 30-team league. New York State is a hotbed for hockey talent in the U.S. and has produced a long list of professional players, including current players such as Ryan Callahan of Rochester, Captain of the New York Rangers, Dustin Brown of Ithaca, Captain of the Los Angeles Kings, and Rochester brothers Brian and Stephen Gionta (Brian is currently captain of the Montreal Canadians and Stephen plays for the New Jersey Devils).
“We are thrilled that our AHL affiliate will be located in Utica next season. In addition to having the opportunity to write a new chapter to Utica’s rich hockey history, we will also have the ability to work with two consummate pros in Robert Esche and Frank DuRoss,” said Mike Gillis, President and General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks. “We look forward to our players donning Utica Comets jerseys and hitting the ice in a revamped Utica Aud next season.”
The Aud has provided residents of Utica and the Mohawk Valley with a quality sports and entertainment venue since 1959. Built on the site of the old Erie Canal, it is historically and architecturally significant – when it was completed, the Aud was one of just three arenas with an unobstructed view, and the interior design would later become the prototype for Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena.
Renovations to the Aud are necessary to host an AHL team and attract more non-sporting events. Understanding the significant boost the Comets and increased visitors will have on the local economy, the State is investing $5 million into the Utica community by assisting with upgrades and improvements to the arena, many of which have been needed for years, that will fulfill AHL requirements, while improving event experience for fans and making it a more attractive venue to the entertainment and events industries. Bringing the Aud into the 21st Century will make Utica a destination for hockey fans and visitors from across New York and the Northeast, generating much-needed economic activity and revenue for local businesses while serving as a key component of Utica’s downtown revitalization.
Senate Majority Coalition Leader Dean Skelos said, “The return of AHL hockey to Utica is great news for an area that has a rich hockey history and a tremendous appreciation for the sport. The state’s investment in renovations and upgrades to the Utica Memorial Auditorium played a key role in bringing the team to Utica and will result in more economic activity and jobs. I applaud the leadership of Senator Joe Griffo to make this happen.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “I am a longtime fan of the New York Rangers, but now I am also a fan of the Utica Comets. Thanks to Assemblyman Brandisi’s advocacy, $2 million in funding was included in this year’s state budget to help pay for improvements to Memorial Auditorium, and the NHL and AHL have taken notice of our commitment. Because of our investments, not only will the excitement of professional hockey return to Utica, but it will also yield many other economic benefits to the region. This is a terrific day for all of Utica and its great hockey fans.”
Senator Joseph Griffo said, “The people of Utica, and the Mohawk Valley, have proven to be huge fans of professional hockey over the years. And these fans will give the Comets the ultimate home team advantage by making the Aud the toughest building in the league for road teams to play in. I’m thrilled that I was able to play a role in securing key upgrades for the Aud, which in turn helped attract and secure a new tenant in the form of an AHL team. I look forward to the arrival of the Comets and the many improvements to the arena. These upgrades will greatly enhance the use of the facility for hockey, concerts and other special events for patrons.”
Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi said, “I’m thrilled that Utica will soon be home to an AHL team once again. The renovations to update the Aud help usher in a new chapter for the venue, restoring it to its former glory and providing a great place for our families to come and enjoy quality sporting events in downtown Utica. Also, by attracting more families and fans to the area, the Aud will play a critical role in our economic revitalization effort, and once again be a vibrant part of our community.”
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said, “Oneida County was proud to partner with Mohawk Valley Garden, the Vancouver Canucks and the AHL to bring this exciting project to fruition. The Comets will provide a significant boost to our county’s economy through the new jobs created; sales tax generated and increased activity in Utica’s downtown core. We will continue to work with all those involved to ensure that arena renovations are completed in a timely fashion, and the team its players and front office have a smooth transition into our great community.”
Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri said, “The arrival of the Comets to the Utica Aud continues the trend of great growth for Utica and our region. The AHL and Vancouver Canucks now know what Bass Pro and many others are finding out: Utica is a great place to live work and raise a family. A vibrant Aud is critical to the City as we look to develop our waterfront and create additional economic opportunities for our residents. We will continue to work with Mohawk Valley Garden and the Vancouver Canucks to ensure that the game day experience in the City of Utica is second to none. Like many fans I’m counting down the days to opening night”
Carl Annese, Chair of the Upper Mohawk Valley Memorial Auditorium Authority said, “The goal of the Authority is to provide affordable family entertainment to Oneida County and surrounding areas, as well as, act as a steward to the Aud which is an architectural gem. I’m proud that my fellow board members and I have been able to achieve both of these goals ,through the $5 million in new state investment and the commitment by the Canucks to bring their AHL team to our facility. We are grateful to Governor Cuomo, Senator Griffo, Assemblyman Brindisi, County Executive Picente and Mayor Palmieri for their leadership and support. We are confident that their efforts will pay big dividends for our facility and the community we serve.”
The Utica Aud has a long and rich history of hosting hockey in the Mohawk Valley. Currently, it is home to the Utica College Pioneers, Mohawk Valley Community College Hawks, The Skating Club of Utica and several high school varsity ice hockey teams. It has been the former home for the Mohawk Valley Stars/Comets of the Atlantic Coast Hockey League, the Utica Devils of the AHL, the Utica Bulldogs, Utica Blizzard, and Mohawk Valley Prowlers of the United Hockey League, and the Mohawk Valley IceCats of the North Eastern Hockey League. The Utica College Pioneers have a strong local fan base and consistently sell out the Aud for games, which has led to the nation’s highest average attendance for a NCAA Division III hockey team.