A Time To Rally The Troops In Columbus, Part Two

Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio/Photo courtesy of J. Rosario - Flickr
Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio/Photo courtesy of J. Rosario - Flickr

The Blue Jackets address the arena lease issue.

By Rick Gethin

The Hockey Writers

     10 days have passed since it was revealed that the Blue Jackets have incurred $80 million in losses in seven years. 10 days in which passionate views for both sides have reared their collective heads. On the one side, there are the fans that have come forward to say that 28 cents more for a 12-pack of their favorite beer is not too much to ask to keep “their” team in Columbus. And on the other, there are people like Bob who are still under the misguided impression that the team is looking for a bailout.

     Greg Kirstein and Todd Sharrock were very clear last Tuesday in saying that the Blue Jackets are not seeking a bailout. This is all about a bad lease that needs to be rectified to help make the Blue Jackets profitable.

     A study of the economic impact of the Arena District was commissioned by the Convention Facilities Authority, the Blue Jackets and Nationwide, entitled OSU John Glenn Affairs Economic Study of Arena District from 98 to 08. The results of the study holds no surprises;  1. the blighted penitentiary area has become the most vibrant part of Columbus… and is now spreading through to the Short North. 2. They concluded that driving force behind this is the team. In summation, “The team drives arena, the arena drives arena district, the arena district drives downtown and short north development”.

     Here are some of the statistics from the study:

* $1 billion dollars in investments
* $2 billion dollars in economic activity
* Through the end of 2006; 172 businesses in district and 7000 employees
* 1 million sq ft of office space
* $350 million in annual wages in the surrounding area
* 6 housing complexes with over 800 residents
* $850 million in visitor spending over 10 years
* 78% believe it’s the Blue Jackets who give rest of country the idea that Columbus is a big city
* 90% are proud Columbus has the team

     As you can see, the economic imapct of having the Blue Jackets in Columbus has been tremendous. Why then, was a lease that was detrimental to the Blue Jackets signed in the first place? Simply put, it needed to be signed to finalize the team becoming operational in Columbus. Was this equitable for the parties involved? For the Blue Jackets the answer has to be a resounding “no”. But at the time, it needed to be done. A twenty-five year lease seemed to be a sound decision in 1998. In 2009, that decision still looks good; it’s just that the details of the lease need to be re-worked.

     In the eyes of John Q. Public, the sin-tax is a dead issue at this juncture. Alternatives need to be explored. The Other Paper is reporting that a solution along the lines of Net-Jets could happen. Les Wexner, CEO of Limited Brands, could facilitate a meeting of the “business” minds in Columbus. “Back in 2007, NetJets, the Columbus aviation company, was shopping several out-of-town locations for a cushy deal, Wexner gathered business and political leaders at his home, including CEO David Rosenthal. Rosenthal reportedly fell for the group’s collective dinner-time mission to keep NetJets in Columbus.” Could this same type of meeting work for the Blue Jackets?

     One thing is for sure; the economic viability of the Columbus downtown area is directly tied to the Blue Jackets being successful in all facets of their operations. The team has helped to give Columbus a national identity. To squander this, and the jobs it has created, would be short-sighted thinking on a massive scale.