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Columbus, Blue Jackets stall on Nationwide Arena changes

Columbus Blue JacketsDespite lots of chatter about the city of Columbus taking over Nationwide Arena to give the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) some financial relief, there have been no further talks on the issue — and there are whispers the Blue Jackets may be looking to move.

The whispers are bouncing around NHL circles, and they’re confirmed by Mayor Michael B. Coleman: “”I do not want to lose the Blue Jackets,” he told the Columbus Dispatch. “I don’t know much about hockey, but I do know about economic development.” The Blue Jackets management, for the meantime, isn’t talking at all.

The issue: the Blue Jackets have one of the worst leases in the NHL, paying $5 million in rent and losing $4 million in running the arena (though that task is outsourced to SMG). In total, team owners say they lose $12 million a year. In addition, Ohio State now books both Nationwide Arena and the Schottenstein Center.

The solution: have the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority buy the arena and start charging Nationwide for naming rights. A new lease would cut down the team’s losses.

The problem is, there’s no pot of money sitting around to purchase the arena. One solution would be using casino proceeds, but legal issues have halted casino construction for now. (Let’s just say it’s complicated.)

In any case, the status quo can’t go on for the Blue Jackets, who already face a challenging marketplace in Columbus: yes, they’re the only pro (if you don’t count the Buckeyes football squad, that is!) franchise in the smallish market, but they’re also arguably third in the local sports-dollar pecking order, behind OSU football and OSU basketball. And it’s very debatable whether the market can support two major arenas.

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