Arenas of the past never had a long shelf life. Once the 20-year mark was reached, typically, teams began looking for a new venue to call home to keep up with the times. Even legendary arenas (i.e. Madison Square Garden) have to get some major facelifts from time to time just to keep up with the modern amenities that brand new arenas have.
Arenas built in the mid-90s and later, however, have been able to stay with the times. Why is that, exactly? Well, some venues (at least ones built for hockey) seem to take after the same design that Minnesota came up with for the Xcel Energy Center.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” says Brian Cutter, a Minnesota Wild season ticket holder and a fan who travels to see the team play on the road on a yearly basis. Cutter, who has been to 39 NHL arenas in total, says one of the NHL’s newest arena’s, PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, is modeled in the likeness of the X. “It’s almost a carbon copy [of the Xcel Center],” he says.
The Xcel Energy Center has aged remarkably. It remains regarded as one of the best in the NHL and continues to be a great venue for concerts and other traveling shows.
Jack Larson is the Vice President and General Manager of Xcel Energy Center, a position he has held since 2001. Asked if he thought the arena would still be in this great of shape after 20 years when first took the job he replied, “I did not. A lot of times, when a building gets to 20 years old, you start to think about what’s going to happen. Either major renovations or a new building gets built. So yes, this building has held up extremely well. People still call it a new building because it still feels that way. It kept up very well. We have made improvements over the years to make it feel that way.”
A big reason for the continued praise Xcel Energy Center gets is that the arena has some of the best sightlines in the league according to Cutter. “Best in the league, bar none,” he said. “For hockey, it’s almost the perfect arena.” Sightlines, as you may recall, were a focus for the building when it was constructed. The arena’s upper level was given opera style seating to better see the ice.
Needless to say, that feature turned out to be a great success.
The arena is widely praised as a concert venue by the shows that come to town. “It’s considered one of the best acoustical arenas in North America,” Larson said. “We’ve had traveling shows tell us that.”
The acoustics is a big reason why you see the big shows come to town and do their shows in St. Paul at the Xcel Center over Minneapolis’ Target Center.
“I wish we could put this arena on wheels and bring it back to London with us,” once said Barrie Marshall, a promoter for Paul McCartney, on the St. Paul arena.
But even after 20 years, things need to get fixed and/or upgraded, even in an arena as good as the Xcel Energy Center.
In the latter half of each year, arena management and the Wild front office get together on what they can do to enhance the fan experience in the arena for the next season. Any upgrades that get decided on also have to get approved by the City of St. Paul, and when approved, will get done in the summer months of the following year while the primary tenant of the arena, the Wild, are in their offseason. The upgrades are discussed in the latter half of the previous year so it can be fit into the budget for that year.
Starting in 2014 moving forward, there have been several notable upgrades in the arena. The first and most noticed one was the replacement of the original scoreboard that overhung center ice in 2014. The new scoreboard, made by Daktronics, is six times larger than the arena’s original one, as it now stretches from blue line to blue line. It also features the north woods motif that is featured around the arena like the old one did.
The arena underwent a full re-seat the next year. The seats were done in the same forest green color as the originals, so it went mainly unnoticed.
When asked if there was ever a consideration to bring back the green, yellow, and white seat configuration that the Met Center featured, Larson – a former Met Center employee – said, “That was unique to (Met Center) as it was more to the colors of the North Stars hockey team. We didn’t really discuss bringing that pattern back into the arena.”
Other upgrades to the arena since 2014 have included replacing the ribbon boards around the façade of the suite level and the upper level, new led lighting, new premium spaces (Bud Light Top Shelf Lounge and The Reserve), among other things.
Larson said that presently there are no upgrades/renovations on the horizon nor have any been done since the arena went dark in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the arena has been cleaned and some sanitation protocols have been implemented for when the arena gets the go-ahead to start hosting events again.
If he could make an upgrade to the arena, Cutter advised a fix for the ice surface and players saying, “I sometimes question the ice-making once in a while. On some nights you see a lot of snow on the ice.”
Not a bad idea for an arena that hosts 150 events each year.
Between all the great existing features and the new upgrades to the arena, the Xcel Energy Center has set itself up for at least another 20 years of hosting premier events in the Twin Cities, in addition to the Minnesota Wild. As long as the X continues to be regarded as one of the best venues for hockey in North America, the Wild will continue to call the corner of West Seventh and Kellogg Boulevard their home.
“Our goal is to bring great events to the City of St. Paul, the Twin Cities, and to get as many people to come to the building for the events that we produce,” Larson said. “We are just very happy to continue hosting for the citizens of Minnesota and downtown St. Paul.”