Amica Mutual Pavilion gets $19M in upgrades; convention center next

NEW ELEVATED SEATING was installed inside the Amica Mutual Pavilion over the summer. Additionally 460 new seats to help increase the arena's capacity were also installed. / PBN PHOTO/JAMES BESSETTE
NEW ELEVATED SEATING was installed inside the Amica Mutual Pavilion over the summer. Additionally 460 new seats to help increase the arena's capacity were also installed. / PBN PHOTO/JAMES BESSETTE

PROVIDENCE – A long-awaited new roof, new and additional seating and a new digital video control room are among the $19 million in upgrades made to the Amica Mutual Pavilion over the summer.

State officials now hope for a strong return on its investment with significant economic impact on the city and Rhode Island as a whole. Additionally, upgrades to the R.I. Convention Center, the downtown arena’s neighbor, are also now starting to develop.

Gov. Daniel J. McKee, along with R.I. Convention Center Authority General Manager Lawrence J. Lepore and RICCA Chairman Ernie Almonte on Thursday showcased the upgrades to the 50-year-old arena. Lepore told reporters the work was essential to help the Amica Mutual Pavilion remain competitive in attractive events in a market that has eight similar arenas within a 100-mile radius.

McKee said the R.I. General Assembly approximately a year ago appropriated the funds for the state to make the upgrades at the Amica Mutual Pavilion. About $9 million came from the state’s capital plan fund and $10 million was from the state fiscal recovery fund. McKee said the money was invested “very wisely” to make sure the arena “does everything it can do” to create a good economy within the city and state.

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McKee also noted that nearby small businesses who are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and those businesses – including hotels and restaurants – are all going to benefit economically from the activities going on at Amica Mutual Pavilion and the convention center. Investing in the facilities will create “a first-class activity level” for the state, McKee said.

Also, McKee said that both the arena and convention center will have a “major role” in Rhode Island being a host for the upcoming Army-Navy football game in December at Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxborough, Mass. Along with the convention center hosting approximately 3,000 U.S. Navy midshipmen overnight for the game, McKee said the Amica Mutual Pavilion will also hold various activities related to the game, but did not elaborate on want those activities will be.

“This is another example of those investments we’re making around the state of Rhode Island that’s going to help maintain the momentum we have economically, keep our unemployment low, maintain cash flow that allows us to run surpluses on the state level to invest in these important things,” McKee said.

The upgrades were also done fresh off the year where state officials say the arena and convention center had the best year economically in close to three decades. Lepore told Providence Business News the convention center authority gained $2 million in operating profit last year – about $1.4 million from the arena, alone. He said typically the arena and convention center would run a fiscal operating deficit and, now, the authority did not have to go to the state to get an operating surplus to pay the bills.

“For years here, we needed [the state to provide us a surplus],” Lepore said.

FROM LEFT, R.I. Convention Center Authority Chairman Ernie Almonte, Gov. Daniel J. McKee and R.I. Convention Center Authority Lawrence J. Lepore address reporters about the $19 million in upgrades made to the Amica Mutual Pavilion. / PBN PHOTO/JAMES BESSETTE
FROM LEFT, R.I. Convention Center Authority Chairman Ernie Almonte, Gov. Daniel J. McKee and R.I. Convention Center Authority General Manager Lawrence J. Lepore address reporters Thursday about the $19 million in upgrades made to the Amica Mutual Pavilion. / PBN PHOTO/JAMES BESSETTE

The new $7 million-plus roof was the largest single upgrade done to the arena. Plus, it marks the first time that the Amica Mutual Pavilion’s roof has ever been replaced after it first opened in 1973.

Initially, the roof was scheduled to be completed this month. However, due to excessive rain that occurred over the summer, Lepore said the roof is about 90% complete to date and now will be fully completed by the end of October.

Two upgrades that Lepore described as “game-changers” are the 460 new seats for PC basketball and the new digital video production room.

The arena’s capacity, with the new seats on the north end of the lower bowl, will increase capacity to 14,700 for basketball – and bring in additional revenue. The new seats, which cost $3 million, also have technology that allows the rows to rise to at least four feet high off the main floor to allow better viewing for fans.

The new video production room, Lepore said, will allow concert producers to utilize the room and, as a result, save concerts significant money in putting on shows. Lepore said concerts could save between $50,000 and $100,000 in installing their own production equipment by using the arena’s in-house video room. That option could make the Amica Mutual Pavilion more attractive for shows needing to book facilities, Lepore said.

Other upgrades include an expanded VIP bar section on the arena’s lower floor, new spring-loaded hockey boards and glass, and 30,000 square feet of new sub flooring to prevent water leaks on the basketball floor from the ice.

Upgrades are not just stopping at the Amica Mutual Pavilion. Lepore told PBN there is early planning to make upgrades to the convention center next door, looking at multiple possibilities to improve the 30-year-old facility. Some early ideas Lepore said are upgrading electrical, carpeting and bathrooms, and one plan also would be to add square footage. While the state is communicating with architects on what can be done, Lepore said adding square footage to the convention center is difficult because it is “land-locked,” meaning its footprint fills the entire grid it is on.

But Lepore said about 30,000 more square feet is needed for another ballroom to have the convention center remain competitive. An economic impact study on what more convention exhibit space would mean to the city would be needed as part of that renovation project, he said, space that could help attract new events that have not been in Rhode Island previously.

Also, two annual convention staples – Rhode Island Home Show and Rhode Island ComicCon – cannot grow and are “kind of stuck” in traditional models with the convention center’s current space, Lepore said.

“Both of those shows can expand if we have more space,” Lepore said, noting costs will be determined later once upgrade plans are finalized.

Lepore is also optimistic that this year will be at least as strong, if not stronger, as last year for the arena and convention center economically. All of PC’s 2023-24 season home games at the Amica Mutual Pavilion are sold out, Lepore said. The state receives the rent from PC and all the concession sales from the Friars’ games, while PC gets all the ticket sales.

Plus, the P-Bruins last year were among the top-five in the AHL in home attendance, with Lepore noting that if the Boston Bruins are doing well, the club’s AHL affiliate will do well also.

Lepore says the events held at the convention center and arena generate about $30 million for the city, alone. He said if the upgrade investments could net an additional $20 million of economic impact for the city, the upgrades would prove successful, especially now with people returning after the COVID-19 shutdown.

“People will start to come back if you give them good value,” Lepore said.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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