BIGGER AND BETTER — A large crowd was in attendance for the Dierks Bently concert at the Utica Memorial Auditorium in this November 2014 file photo. The county has announced it plans to put up the funds for a multimillion dollar renovation of the facility, to be repaid over time by the state and auditorium. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

County to front state share of renovations at Utica Aud

Published Mar 14, 2017 at 4:10pm

Funds for the planned expansion of the Utica Memorial Auditorium will come from Oneida County and the state.

The county is making plans to provide a maximum of $5.5 million — to be repaid by the Aud over time — and the state is on board with a $2.5 million award through Empire State Development Corp., according to County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.

The county will front the state’s share and then be reimbursed by Albany after the work is done.

Empire State Development did not return messages seeking comment on the state involvement.

In the end, there will be no net cost to the county, the county executive explained.

The objective is to start and finish construction of offices and six club box seating areas, as well as upgrade existing facilities, before the next hockey season starts in the fall. The Aud plans to install additional women’s bathrooms, fire alarms, sprinklers and an elevator that will run from the bottom floor to the third level. Some of the work will bring the building into compliance with the American Disabilities Act.

The arena is home to Utica College’s hockey teams and the Utica Comets, an American Hockey League entry. They are the major tenants.

Picente asked the Board of Legislators last week to approve the county borrowing $5.5 million to get the project off the drawing board. The bonding request will likely be considered at the April 11 meeting.

The county executive explained it is cheaper for the county to borrow the money than if the Aud obtains the funding on its own. Payments to the county by the Aud will cover the debt service, he said.

Earlier this month Picente heartily endorsed the project in his State of the County address.

“First, the Utica Memorial Auditorium, backed by Oneida County bonding and New York state financing, will undergo an expansion that will transform the Aud into the American Hockey League’s premier arena for hockey and entertainment,” said the county official. “The expansion will include the creation of new box suites and conference room and office space that will result in the ability to book more shows and entertainment options.”

The Aud project is one of three components of Picente’s plan to create an entertainment district in downtown Utica. He also proposed the opening of a gaming facility, in conjunction with the Oneida Indian Nation, and establishment of the American Craft Beer Museum and Innovation Center. The Upper Mohawk Valley Memorial Auditorium Authority contracts with a management company to run the day-to-day operations. Mohawk Valley Garden is an umbrella organization that controls most of the Aud’s operations through its affiliates, which include the Utica Comets and the Aud concessionaire.