by Nick Mecca

On September 28, Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo arrived at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome to make a pair of special announcements.

Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. took to the podium first, and spoke to the correlation between Governor Cuomo and the Mohawk Valley’s revival.

“Without the Governor’s help, this continuation of the growth and buildout at the newly-named Adirondack Bank Center at The AUD, for the Comets, Utica College and all of their events, and for the rebirth in downtown Utica that has stimulated new growth, new opportunity, and new investment, would not have been possible,” Picente remarked.

Governor Cuomo took to the podium next to present Picente with a check for 10.55 million dollars to fund the West End Expansion Project, officially marking the project as fully-funded by the State; the construction endeavor at the newly-named Adirondack Bank Center is well on its way to add 26,000-square feet for women’s restrooms, office space, and, most visibly, suites and loge seating. The project will also include ADA-compliant renovations and a full sprinkler system, and will be completed in just a month’s time. Governor Cuomo spoke to the success of the Adirondack Bank Center, the Comets, and Utica College, and the impact that the facility and its tenants have had not only on the Utica area, but throughout the State of New York.

“For decades, the Utica AUD has been a great centerpiece for Utica,” Governor Cuomo proclaimed. “And for sports and for recreation, The AUD has been the place…so the decision was made to renovate the AUD, because you want to be competitive, creative, and you want people to continue to come.”

“Why renovate it?” Cuomo continued. “The Comets are doing extraordinarily well at The AUD, and we applaud Mr. Esche. But we want him to do even better – we want more economic activity. The theory is that if you make an investment, you will attract more business. Today, that theory proves correct.”

In conjunction with Governor Cuomo, Chris Nikolis, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Business Development with the American Hockey League, proceeded to surprise the crowd by revealing that Utica is to host the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic, Presented by Turning Stone Resort Casino, on January 28 and 29, 2018. This will be the second time that Utica, and the newly-named Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, have hosted the two-day event, which brings in representatives from all 30 teams to face off in both a seven-part skills competition and a round-robin 3-on-3 all-star tournament, where the teams are divided up by its four conferences. The Comets and The AUD hosted the same event in 2015, which was a massive achievement, thanks in large part to the help of Turning Stone.

Nikolis spoke to both Utica’s successful sellout streak and their fan base, as well as the connection to the West End Expansion Project.

“I can attest to the fact that the Comets have transformed an area, built a loyal fan base, and been a great league partner since their inception,” Nikolis explained. “We had a truly great event here in 2015, and that blueprint will allow us to not only match 2015’s event, but far surpass it.”

AHL President Dave Andrews also expressed his support of awarding Utica and the Adirondack Bank Center with this milestone event.

“The American Hockey League is thrilled to be returning to the Mohawk Valley for our All-Star Classic,” said Andrews. “We owe great thanks to Robert Esche, the Comets organization, the State of New York and Turning Stone Resort Casino for offering their first-class facilities and accommodations once again so that we can showcase our brightest stars in front of capacity crowds and international television audiences.”

While the two announcements do not appear to overlap in black and white, they tie together seamlessly in their relation to the development and overall success of the Adirondack Bank Center. The decision of the AHL to return to Utica three years later for the All-Star Classic is a testament to the impact that the project has already had, even with a month left to go in the construction process. The suites and loge seating elevate the Adirondack Bank Center to the level of other AHL arenas, and even some NHL ones, by providing fans with an array of premium seating options and an improved overall fan experience.

“It’s a complete honor and privilege to have Adirondack Bank Center selected as the host city for the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic,” Esche expressed. “The check presentation from The State also demonstrates their positive viewpoint on the Adirondack Bank Center and its ability to catalyze tourism in the Mohawk Valley.”

As the Comets prepare to enter their fifth anniversary season, the announcement of both the 10.55 million from the State of New York and the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic could not be a better joint representation of how far Utica has come in the past couple of years. These two pivotal moments in Utica’s history close out an exciting week – a week that also included the unveiling of The AUD’s first ever naming rights deal, officially adjusting the name of the venue to the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Thursday’s announcements are evidence of not only the national impact of AHL hockey in Utica, but also the power of the civic pride running rampant through the Comets fan base in the community.