Bailout For The Blue Jackets?

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A new report commissioned by the Columbus Chamber of Commerce says the city’s NHL franchise, the Blue Jackets, is losing around $12 million annually. Those losses have led to fears that the team might be sold and/or moved elsewhere. That would be a disaster for the Arena District says the top chamber official.

When the president of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce talks about the Arena District he describes its growth as nothing short of miraculous. Once home to the Ohio Penitentiary, Ty Marsh says the area has been transformed into a vibrant entertainment district with 170 businesses and 5,000 employees. Marsh says it’s a major revenue producer for the city, the county and the state

“It is generating over $30 million a year that goes into our tax coffers of our government entities. We believe all that is the result of the catalyst of the Blue Jackets,” Marsh says.

The chamber’s findings are contained in a study conducted by Ohio State finance professor emeritus Stephen Buser. Buser says that at present the NHL team is hemorrhaging cash to the tune of $12 million a year. Part of that amount is rent that the Blue Jackets pay to lease Nationwide Arena. Buser says most other hockey teams have lease agreements more favorable to the team.

“The Blue Jackets have to pay a large amount of money to rent the arena and it’s provided free of charge to most NHL Teams,” Buser says.

There was talk several months ago about the sale of Nationwide Arena to Franklin County. The county would then negotiate better terms for the Jackets. Nothing has come of that plan. But some form of public / private partnership might be necessary to keep the Blue Jackets in Columbus.

“Columbus is sitting in the power seat right now. They’ve got a good position for retaining the Blue Jackets. But if they choose not to take action I’d personally be surprised if the Blue Jackets would decide to stick it out and continue to take these massive losses they’ve been incurring,” Buser says.

The report lays out a range of possible options but does not make recommendations. However, Buser says the loss of the team would likely result in the loss of jobs and declining tax revenues.

“If we lose them I think it’s going to be a real bad outcome financially,” he says. “For the non-hockey people like myself, we’re going to suffer because we’re not going to have as much tax revenue coming in.”

The chamber’s Ty Marsh says the report should serve as an incentive to get community discussions started. But he says the matter must be settled quickly; by the end of the year if possible. “This again is not just about saving the team. It’s about saving the catalyst for growth in that area and surrounding areas. They’re generating a lot more business activity down there and we want to keep that growth and prosperity going,” Marsh says.

In a statement acknowledging the value of the team, Mayor Michael Coleman said he would not divert city tax dollars away from basic services. But he called on the public and private sectors to search for options that would keep the Blue Jackets in Columbus. A more vaguely worded statement from the Franklin County Commission says it will take time and effort to determine what’s best for Central Ohio during tight economic times.

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