The Mohawk Valley has had a hockey team for most of the last 90 years, but 1993 was the last time a professional hockey team took to the ice in Utica. Earlier this year, the city landed a new American Hockey League team, called the Utica Comets, and a chance to bring more than just hockey back to the city.
Frank DuRoss is co-owner of the new Utica Comets, a Vancouver Canucks affiliate. He says the new AHL team is one of many things giving the region a reason to cheer.
"There's a general feeling in the area with the Comets coming, the renovations to the Utica Auditorium, with Bass Pro Shops and all the talk about Marcy Nanocenter, that we finally feel that we're about to really take off," DuRoss said. "Everyone in the Mohawk Valley is excited about this."
DuRoss says the team's arrival has helped spur new construction in the city, including loft-style apartments for players and a sports bar and restaurant. It's also keeping the doors open at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, or what locals refer to as the Aud, where the Comets and the city's collegiate teams will play.
"Obviously, this is much more than about an American Hockey League team, as important as that is," DuRoss said. "It's important for the building. The building desperately needed $5 to $8 million in improvements or -- this is one of the jewel assets in our city -- and if the money wasn't put into this building, I would say within five or six years, the building would have closed."
DuRoss says he expects the team to bring thousands of fans to the city for each of its 38 home games, but more importantly, millions of dollars to the local economy.
"We're creating 47 full-time, good paying jobs," DuRoss said. "On event nights, there's an additional 50 part-time jobs for individuals. We're developing parking lots. Two of the buildings adjacent to the Aud that have been empty for 20 years have now been sold. One is being turned into a sports bar and pizzeria. The other is being turned into a small store."
The team signed a six-year deal with the city and begins its inaugural season October 11 against the Rochester Americans. Because of ongoing renovations, the Comets start playing at home on October 23, when they take on the Albany Devils.