The newly opened Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford is having $800,000 slashed from its funding by state legislators.

The team that runs the recently opened Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford may have to drop plans for a bus that would run between the building and area hotels and cut some marketing after the state Legislature passed a budget that slashes the center’s funding by $800,000.

“That’s a frustrating situation for us,” said H. Scott Phelps, president of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The cut is especially hard to take because the convention center’s staff has gotten off to a strong start in promoting and marketing the new venue, and the cut could result in a loss of momentum, Phelps said.

The Capital City Economic Development Authority oversees the operations of the convention center, but contracts with the Convention & Visitors Bureau in selling the center for large conventions.

The $271 million convention center is the centerpiece of Hartford’s downtown revitalization. It is located on the Connecticut River.

CCEDA originally asked the state government for $6 million to operate the center. Gov. M. Jodi Rell later made cuts to the budget that reduced that to $5.5 million and the Legislature and governor’s most recent cuts reduce that to $4.7 million. The budget includes $700,000 in operating expenses for CCEDA, a $2 million operating subsidy for the convention center and $2 million for marketing, according to the Associated Press.

But CCEDA spokesman Dean Pagani said the $6 million the organization originally asked for was what was needed to effectively run the convention center, and operating with the further cuts will be difficult.

“We were fighting until the last day of the session to get as much of the money that we asked for,” he said.

In addition to affecting the marketing budget, Arthur L. Handman, executive director of the Greater Hartford Transit District, told the AP that the cut in funding will put on hold a plan to run a circulator bus from the convention center to Hartford’s hotels.

‘State of Euphoria’

Although brand new, the convention center is an important part of the state’s economy, Phelps said. It imports dollars, and any dollar earned in another state and spent in Connecticut is good for the state’s economy, he said.

“It’s an important statewide asset,” Pagani said.

CCEDA views it as a feature that, like Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, will help attract companies to Connecticut.

Despite the setbacks with the convention center’s budget, both Pagani and Phelps said they were pleased with its opening earlier this month.

“The opening went very well,” Pagani noted.

About 11,000 people came to the 540,000-square-foot center for its first events – a business expo, several meetings and the ribbon cutting – on June 2. Another 6,000 people walked through the convention center several days later, when an open house for the public was held.

“[People’s] reactions seemed to be very positive,” Pagani said.

Visitors indicated they were impressed with the scale of the center, which includes a 10-story glass atrium, large ballrooms and a central exhibit hall.

“I think there’s a real sense of the size of the building,” Phelps said.

The public was also positive about the views of the river and of the city, and complimented the red color of the carpets.

“The opening was outstanding,” Phelps said. “There was a real state of euphoria amongst the people who were involved in this project.”

The businesses who participated in the expo were also happy with the way the convention center was run, he said.

“All the comments have been really positive,” Phelps said.

The staff was quick to respond to visitors’ requests and inquiries, he added. One visitor, who works at a restaurant, told Phelps after attending a banquet at the convention center that it was the biggest banquet he’d seen where the eggs were still hot.

There were several opening-day traffic problems because of the construction still going on around the convention center, but people were generally impressed with the facility, Pagani said.

“There were some opening-day communications problems,” he said.

So far, the convention center’s staff has scheduled about 200 events, which are in various stages of confirmation, for the first 12 months it is open. Thirty of those are large-scale, including the Islamic Circle of North America’s planned convention in July and other events being held by the Northeast Aerospace Engineers, several teachers’ associations and Mary Kay Cosmetics later this year.

“The convention center sales staff is very pleased,” Pagani said.

The sales staff is experienced and its members worked at other convention centers around the country before coming to Hartford.

“It’s their feeling that, for a building that just opened, this is very good,” Pagani said.

Those affiliated with the facility are further pleased because it is often difficult for new convention centers to book many events. Most planners want to hold their events in a place that has a proven track record, something the young building doesn’t yet have.

The convention center, along with Adriaen’s Landing – an entertainment and retail center near the Connecticut River – and several other projects are part of former Gov. John Rowland’s “Six Pillars of Progress” that are intended to revitalize downtown Hartford. Hartford 21 is taking the place of the old Hartford Civic Center. In addition to the retail and residential components of the project, there will be 93,000 square feet of office space, 800 parking spaces and a 35,000-square-foot public space with a 50-foot-high atrium and entrance to the 16,600-seat Veterans Memorial Coliseum, according to documents from Northland Investments.

“The plans for the convention center were part of an overall plan for downtown,” Pagani said.

But the convention center is the biggest component of the plan.

“It really was a multi-faceted effort,” Pagani said.

The city has been lobbying for a convention center for about 20 years, he added.