The return of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to Connecticut following a 21-year hiatus means a boost to business in downtown Hartford.
After months of preparation, signs of March Madness are inside and outside the XL Center.
“Obviously, all of our UConn games are our staples on our calendar,” XL Center GM Chris Lawrence said, “but this one is different, I think just from national exposure that it draws and over 20 years since it’s been here before.”
Across the street from the civic center, Max Bibo’s Deli opened two years after the last time Hartford hosted the tournament.
“Today’s open practice and there’s the city has quite a bustle to it and we’re expecting an even bigger crowd tomorrow,” said managing partner Bob Colangelo Jr.
Colangelo said it will be all hands on deck and the deli will stay open late Thursday, just like on a UConn basketball game day.
“Normally, we’re not open past 3 p.m.,” he said. “We’re a breakfast-lunch establishment, main items are soups sandwich salads, that type of thing that’s our niche.”
Inside the XL Center concourse, plenty of tournament merchandise is on display.
“This is exactly why the building is here,” Lawrence said. “That’s what it’s meant to do. It is meant to be a civic center and really drive the economic impact in the city here whether it’s the hotels, the restaurants, the bars or whatever it may.”
Fans of eight teams – Florida State, Vermont, Marquette, Murray State, Villanova, Saint Mary’s, Purdue and Old Dominion – will fill the XL Center during the afternoon and evening double-headers.
“It’s obviously a very exciting time of year you know the NCAA tournament just feels different than all other games the rest of the basketball season,” said Carly Day, who is with the Purdue basketball team.
She got to explore Hartford Wednesday morning.
“It’s obviously chilly outside,” she said, “but we’re used to that where we from. I just had a nice walk down by the river and back.”
Two members of the Vermont dance team are from Connecticut.
“It’s pretty exciting and a little bittersweet because I am ending my journey here,” said Kara Bates, a UVM senior from Rocky Hill.
While college hoops biggest stage is back in Hartford, another season has gone by with the UConn men’s basketball team not punching a ticket to the Big Dance.
“We’re hoping that Hurley can rebuild you know,” Colangelo said. “We’ll see what happens.”
There may still be some limited tickets available for the games Thursday and the Round of 32 on Saturday.
Gov, Ned Lamont (D) announced on Twitter that the Hartford Line will have late night trains Thursday for fans to take after the last game on the schedule.