A Round Table Discussion with the Blue Jackets
By Rick Gethin
The Hockey Writers
This is the first of a two part series on the Nationwide Arena lease situation happening in Columbus.
Tuesday evening, the Blue Jackets Senior Vice President and General Counsel Greg Kirstein and Blue Jackets Vice President of Public Relations Todd Sharrock met with members of the non-traditional media in Columbus for a “round table” discussion of the issue regarding the arena lease that has dominated the local news as of late. The meeting started with an overview of the arena lease issue followed by a Q & A period. My heartfelt thanks go out to John at Light The Lamp for bringing this to my attention and providing this reporter with the minutes from that meeting.
It was stressed that this isn’t just about the Jackets. It’s about the Arena, the Arena District and all that it contributes to a vibrant downtown area. It’s estimated that between 750k and one million people visit the downtown Arena District yearly.
While the Nationwide company has been somewhat made out to be the “bad guy” in all of this, that doesn’t appear to be the case upon closer examination. They stepped up and paid to build the arena and in the process, created many jobs in and around the Arena District. Now, they have stepped up to help be part of the solution to the arena lease issue. They are willing to sell the arena at a substantial loss and take the proceeds from a sale of the arena and become a minority owner of the team. At the same time, they have offered to sell the naming rights to the arena.
Even though it would seem that this came to be before the public less than six days ago, the team has been in communication with the political community; meeting over the last two months with state, county and city officials. The proposal put forth that seemed to be the best option was one that had worked in Cleveland (Browns/Indians/Cavs). A tax on alcohol and cigarettes, otherwise known as a “sin tax” to pay for the arena. While the Blue Jackets were lining up support for this option, Anheuser Busch and the local wine and beer lobby got wind of this and made a pre-emptive “strike” by going public. With the “cat out of the bag”, the Blue Jackets had to start performing some semblance of damage control. The state legislature needed to have the support of the Franklin County Commissioners to move this option forward. Once the public caught wind of this, courtesy of Anheuser Busch, the commissioners were squarely in the cross-fire and didn’t lend their support.
It should be noted that the county already owns the land that Nationwide Arena sits on. It also owns the Convention Center as well as the new Huntington Park baseball park (and the land it sits on) in the downtown arena.
With the vast majority of arenas and major league ballparks/stadiums built since 1990 being paid for with public or a public/private mix of funds, Nationwide Arena is a totally private venture. This needs to change. There can be no denying the positive impact having an NHL team has had on the city in the downtown area. The most vibrant part of downtown Columbus is the Arena District and all of the opportunity this has brought to what was formerly known as a “cow town”.
The Blue Jackets are fully aware that the timing of this is “horrible”; especially after completing the most successful season to date. However, they also knew that waiting one more year would have made the situation worse.
Part two of this series will run Monday, June 8th.