Columbus’ Arena District is one of the rapidly growing areas of the city. The district is home to Nationwide Arena, where the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets play and rock concerts and other special events are held, as well as apartments, condominiums, offices, restaurants, bars, and Huntington Park, the home field of the Columbus Clippers. It’s an area that is bustling with activity, day and night.
The only dark cloud on the horizon is that the Blue Jackets are struggling financially, and there is concern that the franchise might leave for greener (or in the case of the NHL, snowier) pastures and a better deal that provides them with more revenue. Columbus leaders worry that if the arena’s anchor tenant leaves, the Arena District might wither on the vine. So, a long-term deal has been worked out. Columbus and Franklin County pledge a share of taxes to be produced by the not yet opened Columbus casino to buy and operate the arena — the total contribution over 27 years is expected to approach $250 million — and in exchange the Blue Jackets get to use the arena rent-free and promise to stay in Columbus until 2039. Although local politicians and community leaders all seem to support the deal, some people are opposed. They want the casino tax revenues used for other purposes, and they object to the fact that the deal won’t be put before local voters.
I think most people in the Columbus area are proud of the Arena District and will support the arrangement. It sure would help, however, if the Blue Jackets were a better team, generated more excitement and attendance, and made the playoffs. It will be a lot easier for the people of Columbus to swallow the cost of supporting a perennial Stanley Cup contender than a perennial also-ran.
Last night the NHL season began, and the Blue Jackets opened with a game at Nationwide Arena against the Nashville Predators. The CBJ lost, 3-2.