Those of you who have been to Lake Placid, New York, are familiar with the basics: it’s a small town in upstate New York that gains most of its revenue from tournament-based sports recreation play. This is the exact foot traffic and critical mass that increases sales tax revenue while supporting the local hotels and restaurants. CEO of Mohawk Valley Garden Robert Esche has similar aspirations for Utica, New York.

Unveiled on May 16 by Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., The U District encompasses the area beginning at The AUD and stretching East to Bagg’s Square and contains concepts for an American Craft Beer Museum and Innovation Center, Utica Commons Casino, Nexus Center and more. The vision creates a walkable epicenter for Arts, Sports and Entertainment and truly has options for everyone.

One of the highlights of The U District is the Nexus Center. Developed four years ago by Esche, the Nexus Center is a sports and recreation hub geared towards tournament-based recreation play. Nexus, meaning a series of connections, is what The U District can truly be – a connection of different businesses and entities that all share the common undercurrent of bringing people together.

Ever since last week’s press conference, people in the Mohawk Valley and beyond cannot stop talking about The Nexus Center. The reason being is that it ties together an array of different interests and pastimes in prime location next to The AUD. With square footage space for three hockey rinks that can easily be transitioned to basketball courts, indoor soccer, lacrosse and rugby fields, The Nexus Center extends its reach to all seasons and all athletes.

The venue will be combined with a one-stop-shop for all sports and recreation activity in the Northeast, stretching from Toronto to New York City to Boston and more. Esche believes that the cards have aligned for The Nexus Center to be that focal facility with an ability to cater to a very specific economic driver in tournament-based sports recreation play, coupled with innovative convention and event space.

“With its leadership from Senator Joe Griffo, Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, and Onedia County Exectuive Anthony Picente, Utica and the surrounding area is finally positioned to tackle the tourism industry as a whole,” Esche explained. “The bigger the dreams, the better, especially when turning these concepts into realities.”

And the concepts for The Nexus Center have taken into account just that; the bright future that is ahead for Utica, New York, and how to capitalize on its upward momentum. In this footprint, Nexus will have the ability to expand on its retail usage, as well as the ability to attract others. Moreover, conceptual and strategic planning endeavors are underway on how to not only maximize the space, but to also increase the square footage of the facility to include other sectors of sports and entertainment.

So why does The Nexus Center make sense in The U District? The answer is simple – foot traffic.

Much like the American Craft Beer Museum and Utica Commons Casino, Nexus projects hundreds of thousands of visitors passing through its doors annually. And when you combine the above facilities, The U District as a whole is expected to attract over 1.5 million patrons annually. When you take into account that each facility’s resources overlap into one another, it becomes an easy model to understand – a model that builds off of existing infrastructure to house an arts, sports, and entertainment district.

“With a sustainable business model already in place, it is imperative that we expedite and move forward in a manner conducive to success,” said Esche. “This is a project that can catapult us ahead of like markets, and put Utica on the map where it belongs. 


When Mayor John T. McKennan came up with the idea for a central hub of activity in Utica, New York, he had no idea that sixty years later, in 2017, similar minds would piggyback on his innovative plan to make The AUD and its surrounding area the place to live, work, and play.

Earlier this week, Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. unveiled a comprehensive plan for The U District; a vision that both expands The AUD and develops new land in the area for the Nexus Center for Sports and Recreation, American Craft Beer Museum and Innovation Center, Utica Commons Casino, and more. The U District would not only generate exponential revenue for Utica, but would also embody a new way of life for Uticans, and provide them with a walkable and scenic atmosphere. The spark for The U District, a West End Expansion project at The AUD, broke ground earlier this month and will add luxury suites, premium loge seating, women’s bathrooms, and other amenities to the National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

While Tuesday was the first time the renderings were presented to the public, the concepts for The U District have been in the works for over five years; in fact, one could even say they have been in the cards since 1957. Mayor McKennan first developed the vision for The AUD to drive people towards the area’s hotels, restaurants, and stores – placing an importance on local businesses and innovators. When The AUD opened in March of 1960, there were crowds outside of the doors, patiently waiting to see for themselves the project that was in the front of their minds since the groundbreaking nearly three years prior. And structural engineer Lev Zetlin’s ingenuity and entrepreneurial courage to create the first pre-stressed dual cable roof system has carried over throughout the past sixty years, as businesses in Bagg’s Square and downtown Utica are constantly creating space for conversation and future development. As hotels, restaurants, and shops increased, so did the need for new environments for patrons to spend their dollar and their time.

Fast forward to 2012, when Mohawk Valley Garden President Robert Esche began his efforts to bring an AHL franchise back to Utica. Esche found himself returning to those original ideas that helped to both literally and figuratively build The AUD.

“This was never solely about hockey,” Esche explained. “Hockey and The AUD were simply the catalysts for a much bigger vision, one that encompassed the surrounding area as well as the region and one that I’ve always felt has endless boundaries.”

The announcement of the Utica Comets on June 14, 2013, sparked the fire that has been steadily burning for the past four years; a fire of entrepreneurial spirit, creative innovation, and, of course, economic development. By utilizing The Western New England Law Review study, one can calculate that The AUD has had an economic impact of $48,805,135.44 since 2013; a fluid number that will increase upon completion of the West End Expansion Project. And with the concept for the Nexus Center, that number has the potential to skyrocket even further.

“While it has long been an economic driver for the region, the Utica Memorial Auditorium has taken its role as catalyst for change to a whole new level over the past five years,” Picente said. “The renovation and expansion that have, and will take place, will continue to elevate the caliber of this iconic facility, and serve as the launching pad for an Arts, Sports and Entertainment District that will completely transform downtown Utica.”

Perhaps most importantly, the Nexus Center, along with the American Craft Beer Museum and Innovation Center and Utica Commons Casino, mirror what went through the minds of many in the mid to late 1950s, when the idea for The AUD was born. While there was much to work through, and many challenges to overcome, resilient minds pushed through, and a vision became a reality.

Stay tuned for more updates on The U District! To follow along on social media, use the hashtag #ADistrictForU.