Let’s Go, Jackets!

Let me say at the outset that I am not a hockey fan. I don’t put an “eh” at the end of every sentence. I don’t know the difference between the red line and the blue line, and I’m lost when someone starts talking about “putting the puck in the five-hole.”

Nevertheless, over the past few weeks I’ve found myself regularly checking the ESPN website for hockey results, and on Wednesday night I actually listened to a hockey broadcast as I drove home from Cincinnati. The Blue Jackets won that game and clinched a playoff spot for only the second time in franchise history. With two games left in the regular season — included tonight’s matchup against Tampa Bay — the CBJ now are hoping to improve their playoff position and avoid a first-round series against either Boston or Pittsburgh, which are the two powerhouse teams in the Eastern Conference of the NHL.

Why do I care? I have a lot of friends who are Blue Jackets fans and season ticket holders who have suffered through some dismal, disappointing seasons since the team first started playing in 2000. I’m happy for them. I’m happy for Columbus, too. Nationwide Arena, where the CBJ skate, is the cornerstone of the Columbus Arena District. We need the team to be successful and prosperous for that area to continue to be a growing, vibrant destination. Playoff games will bring excitement, visitors, and tax revenues that will help fill city coffers. And if the Blue Jackets could make a playoff run, all of those positive benefits would be compounded.

Of course, the only time the Blue Jackets made the playoffs they were swept and out in three games — but that’s ancient history, right? Let’s go, Jackets!

The CBJ And The Arena District Deal

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.

Help Needed In Showcasing Columbus

We’re being visited for the weekend by a friend who is new to Columbus.  They are from an urban, East Coast location and have never been to the Midwest, so they already are enjoying the charms of backyards, green grass, white fences, and rolling countryside.

But what distinguishes Columbus from other Midwestern towns that have those same features?  How do we showcase our fair city?  Having never been to Columbus as a tourist, I don’t have the slightest idea of what tourists do when they visit.  We’ve suggested Easton Town Center, the Wexner Center, the Short North, and German Village.  It’s not football season, so an OSU game is out.  The Ohio State Fair hasn’t started yet.  What else?  The Ohio Statehouse?  The Arena District?  The Park of Roses?  It makes me realize that so much of what I really like about Columbus is not showy landmarks, but instead the people and the pace.

Am I missing anything?  I’d appreciate any suggestions!

The Casino Deal

After a stalemate that lasted for months, Penn National Gaming, the City of Columbus, and Franklin County have tentatively agreed to a deal that will end their squabble and allow construction of a west side casino to proceed.

Under the deal, Columbus will kick in $15 million in environmental clean-up and road improvement costs and Penn National will agree to have the casino site annexed into Columbus, which will then benefit from tax revenues and “host city” revenues generated by the casino.  Both parties will pay $2.5 million toward development projects in the west side, and an as-yet-unidentified party is supposed to kick in $11 million to buy the Arena District site where Penn National originally was going to build the casino.  The deadline for getting all of the pieces of the deal inked is June 10, and if that deadline is met Penn National thinks the casino can be completed and open in 2012.

I voted against the constitutional amendment authorizing casinos in Columbus and elsewhere in Ohio because I don’t think Columbus needs a casino.  My side lost, and it became inevitable that a casino would be built.  Since the vote, and the later decision to move the casino to a location in the city’s depressed west side, workers in the construction industry and west side businesses and residents have been looking forward to the jobs that casino construction and operations will provide.  For their sake, I’m glad that a deal has been struck.

Ohio Voters Speak, And The Casino Moves

As we at Webner House hoped, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved State Issue 2, which will move the constitutionally approved casino from Columbus’ Arena District to a site on the west side of town.  It is a win for fans of the Arena District, a win for the economically depressed west side of town, and a win for Penn National, which gets a more accessible casino location.  The casino construction will get underway soon and is expected to open in 2012.  At that point, Ohio will leave the dwindling ranks of states with no casinos within their borders.

In other election news, Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher handily defeated Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate nomination, and voters also approved Issue 1, which extends the Third Frontier program.

Casino Dreams

There has been a lot of news coverage in Columbus lately about the location of the casino that will be built as a result of the passage of the constitutional amendment, Ohio Issue 3, in November.  The casino developer, Penn National Gaming, has finalized its purchase of the property that the Ohio Constitution, thanks to Issue 3, now specifies as the only location for a casino in Columbus.  That location is in the Arena District, an up-and-coming area of businesses, offices, condos, apartments, restaurants, bars, Nationwide Arena (home of the Columbus Blue Jackets), and Huntington Park (home of the AAA Columbus Clippers).  Local leaders don’t want a casino plopped into that vibrant, growing area of town and are trying to get Penn National to locate the casino somewhere else.  Other parts of Columbus, moreover, are eager to welcome a casino and the jobs that supposedly will accompany the casino’s construction and operation.  So far, I have heard reports about The Continent area, which is located north of downtown along I-71, Cooper Stadium, Scioto Downs, and Westland Mall as proposed alternative sites for a casino.

It is sad that there are parts of Columbus that are so desperate for jobs that they would welcome a casino.  I think they are dreaming, however, if they think Penn National is going to change the location without a knock-down, drag-out fight.  After all, the constitutional amendment was written specifically to require the casino to be built in the Arena District location, no doubt precisely because the Arena District is an exciting, busy place with an active night-life and lots of foot traffic.  And, so far as I can determine, Penn National would need to go through the cumbersome legislative and electoral process of undoing the constitutional amendment in order to build the casino at some other location.  Even if the other sites were as attractive as the Arena District site — and they clearly aren’t — why would Penn National want to spend the money to make such a change?

I strongly opposed Issue 3, and I will hate to see a casino built in Columbus.  However, unless civic leaders are willing to play hard ball with municipal services, precipitating a constitutional showdown that pits Columbus’ home rule powers against the constitutional provisions implemented by Issue 3, I think Columbus is just going to have to grit its teeth and accept a casino in the Arena District.

Stalwart Opposition

Although Ohio Issue 3, which amended the Ohio Constitution to allow for the building of casinos in Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Toledo, was approved by voters statewide, it was strongly rejected by voters in central Ohio.  Now, local politicians are trying to figure out what they can do to try to prevent the casino from being located in the Columbus Arena District, a new, upscale, family-friendly area located just north of downtown.  Today’s Columbus Dispatch has an editorial applauding those efforts.

It will be interesting to see what local leaders do to try to avoid the construction of a casino in the location that the Constitution now identifies as the sole, lawful location for a casino in Columbus.  Withhold water and sewer services?  Decline to improve roads and infrastructure?  Tell the police not to patrol in the vicinity of the casino?  Develop new taxing and fee-based ordinances to make operating the casino much less lucrative?  Such initiatives, if pursued, seem likely to set up an interesting legal battle between the “home rule” powers of municipalities like Columbus and the effect of an unprecedented state constitutional amendment.