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Arena solutions emerging in Columbus

Columbus Blue JacketsA game plan for the future of troubled Nationwide Arena is slowly coming together, with Ohio State University looking at booking events and Franklin County buying the downtown Columbus facility.

The current financial situation, according to Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) officials, is not sustainable: the team rents the arena for $5 million, pays SMG for management and then loses $4 million on operations, with a total of $12 million of losses annually on the ledgers for all parts of the business. There’s just no way to grow out of that arrangement; plus, Nationwide Insurance is eager to get away from ownership of the arena, which is so outside its area of expertise.

Faced with the potential of the Blue Jackets moving away — a possibility that’s been quietly raised — officials in Columbus have been working on a solution. A referendum for Franklin County to buy the arena failed, but officials there are coming back with a new plan that does more to address the financials for everyone. Here are the highlights:

  • Ohio State would take over management of the arena from SMG at a greatly reduced fee. The team that manages Schottenstein Center would also oversee Nationwide Arena. It would decrease competition between the two arenas — Columbus just isn’t big enough a market to support two major facilities — and it would cut expenses for the Blue Jackets by more than a million a year. The management contract with SMG expires on June 30, making this a perfect time to initiate a split if you’re the Blue Jackets.
  • Franklin County will be making another run at buying Nationwide Arena, but only if Nationwide lowers its asking price. Under this scenario, voters would again be asked to buy the arena using revenues from sources other than property taxes (perhaps car-rental taxes and casino proceeds). The Blue Jackets would not be charged rent.

These plans are still in the formative stages, but there’s a lot of optimism surrounding the proposals.



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