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Column: Welcome to Hartford

By Tim Fontenault
On April 14, 2014

If you told me that my week could get better after covering half of a dual national championship, Boston College losing, covering my first MLS game, "Mean Girls" showing up on Netflix, seeing Bubba Watson choke up after winning the Masters and watching Joffrey do the same on his wedding day, I would find it hard to believe you.
Alas, it did, and it was the American Athletic Conference putting another smile on my face by announcing that the 2015 men's basketball championship will be held at the XL Center in Hartford.
Part of me wanted New Orleans, which becomes a possible destination with Tulane joining the conference this summer. I was there for the women's Final Four in 2013. I still dream of the beignets, the music and Bourbon Street on a Saturday night.
But Hartford is a wonderful destination, and only 90 percent of that statement stems from not having to fly or stay in a hotel.
The American is clearly cashing in on UConn's recent success in the NCAA tournament. The men's basketball team won its fourth national championship and the women their ninth last week, drawing 200,000 people into Hartford for a celebration on Sunday.
UConn draws well at its second home, and it seems like the AAC is under the impression that the Huskies - easily the early preseason favorite in the American - will bring in large crowds every night, especially considering that the early outlook is that anything but a championship in the conference is going to be a disappointment to the Huskies.
It sounds like the folks in charge of organizing the event are not holding back during their one opportunity for the foreseeable future. About $35 million in renovations are being dropped into the XL Center, with the project on schedule to be completed by Oct. 1. These renovations include an improved concourse, a fan area and enhanced video boards - all things that should make the overall game-going experience better for the fans.
The one knock that people will have against Hartford is the entertainment the city provides. It is no Memphis, nor is it anything like New Orleans. But that does not mean that Hartford will not be good enough for incoming fans.
I apologize that Hartford's history is not very appealing. You can enjoy the houses of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe. You can visit the Capitol or the Bushnell. But other than that, there is not a whole lot to do. That does not mean, however, that Hartford is devoid of any entertainment whatsoever. The food and nightlife provide plenty of entertainment for a food-loving beer drinker like myself.
But if you are looking for some fun times in or around Hartford, this is where I will plug a place I have never gone, but it is the one thing anyone can relate to when I tell them I am from Portland, which is about 20 minutes out of Hartford.
You simply have to go to the Brownstone Quarries!
There, there's your entertainment. Welcome to Hartford. Enjoy the basketball.

Follow Tim on Twitter @Tim_Fontenault

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