Columbus City Council Approves Nationwide Arena Purchase

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Nationwide Arena(Photo: Steve Grant (flickr))
Nationwide Arena(Photo: Steve Grant (flickr))

In a six to nothing vote, city council gave its approval to move forward with buying Nationwide Arena. Council member Zach Klein abstained from the vote due to a work conflict of interest.

Council members say the move is necessary to save revenue generated from the Arena District. Council President Andrew Ginther called the area “a critical job center to Columbus.”

“We cannot in this environment stand by and not do everything we can to protect jobs and build environment for jobs to be created in the future,” Ginther said.

As many as 8,000 people work in the Arena District. Modest estimates say the area generates about $30 million a year in combined city and state income tax and real estate and sales taxes. Studies predict those revenues will double by 2018.

Six people were allowed to argue the deal before council voted – three for it and three against it.

The chair of the Greater Columbus Lodging Council, Geri Lombard, is for the purchase of the arena.

“My hotel is one of the many that has personally benefited from the Blue Jackets as the visiting NHL teams stay with us and spend dollars that go directly back into the community,” she said.

Linda Logan spoke on behalf of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission which supports a publicly-owned arena.

“Week after week we see all kinds of events: concerts, sporting events, family shows, in an area that was nearly abandoned a few years ago,” Logan said.

But Anne Hoke, a longtime East Side resident, opposes the purchase.

“What we’re talking about is small ‘d’ in democracy. The people should be able to vote on this,” Hoke said.

Dan Downing, from the Hilltop, recalled during recent years when voters have turned down tax increases to fund arenas. While this deal does not call for a tax increase, it does use tax revenue that otherwise would go to the city’s general fund.

“Nothing has changed. The people still feel the same way they did 14 years ago. We’re not all dead or senile. The casino is not a gift horse to bail out the private sector,” Downing said.

The Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority will borrow $42.5 million from Nationwide to fund the purchase. And tax revenue from the west side casino will be used to pay off the loan in yearly installments of about $10 million.

The Blue Jackets have been losing money for years – in 2008 they lost more than $16 million. Nationwide leases the team the arena for $3 million a year. But the company says the Blue Jackets have not made rent for four years.

Council and other local leaders fear the Blue Jackets will leave, and purchase of the arena is supposed to make the team more financially solvent. Others say there’s too much already invested in the area to let it fail. The district has been developed since the arena was built about a decade ago. Another hotel is going up right now.

Councilwoman Eileen Paley said, “I don’t know how we could say ‘no’ at this point.”

The deal’s not done yet. Franklin County Commissioners now have to sign off on it. A vote from them is expected later this month.