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Suggested Answer To Blue Jackets Woes: Publicly-Owned Arena
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The fate of the financially-stressed Blue Jackets may finally be less shaky. The committee formed to find a way to keep the N-H-L team in Columbus recommended local government get involved. WOSU reports taxpayers could be the new owners of Nationwide Arena.
Make Nationwide Arena a publicly owned property and you can save the local economy â€“ and the Blue Jackets. Thatâ€™s basically the proposal from the working committee that was set up to keep the Blue Jackets in the city. More specifically, the plan calls for the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority to buy the arena for $43 million. The authority would pay for the purchase with loans from Nationwide and the state of Ohio.
The authority would pay off the 25-year loan using tax revenue from the west side casino.
Columbus City Auditor Hugh Dorrian helped devise the proposal. Dorrian, who calls himself as a fiscal conservative, said he had reservations about getting local government involved with the Blue Jacketâ€™s problems.
“But after study, a lot of study, and a lot of research and looking at the job structure, the results in tax revenuesâ€¦the loss of these things would be felt immediately. And if we lost an anchor tenant it would be a long time before we could fill the place,” Dorrian said.
A John Glenn Institute study found about 8,000 people work in the district and the area generates about $30 million a year in state and local income tax revenue.
At the press conference, members of the working group focused on the Arena Districtâ€™s economy and little on the Blue Jackets.
“Itâ€™s no secret the Blue Jackets are in jeopardy of departure,” said John Rosenberger, who is part of the committee.
The Blue Jackets, about to start their 11th season, have struggled on the ice and financially. The team says itâ€™s losing about $12 million a year because of its lease agreement with the arena. Under the new deal, the Blue Jackets would not pay any rent to the arena. In return, the team promises to stay in Columbus until 2039. They would also be out of the lease with Nationwide Arena which has been at the heart of their financial difficulties.
The city and county will use a quarter the tax money they expect to get from the casino for the arena. Thatâ€™s about a combined total of $8 million.
Auditor Dorrian was asked if casino tax revenue could be put to better use…road projects, street lamps, sidewalks. Dorrian pointed to the more than eight percent unemployment rate.
“I do not want to exacerbate that unemployment rate. And I think if we donâ€™t take on a challenge like this that is exactly what we will do,” he said.
The use of casino tax dollars to fund the purchase of the arena could be considered a controversial move. Nationwide Realty, the arenaâ€™s current owners, objected to the casinoâ€™s location in the Arena District. It was those objections that ultimately led to its current location on the cityâ€™s west side.
Columbus Mayor Michael Colemanâ€™s spokesman, Dan Williamson, said voters, in the end, approved the casinoâ€™s location. And he said the casino tax dollars are fair game.
“It is new revenue that is available to us and so I think itâ€™s appropriate to use it for what, for the best use that we can use it for,” Williamson said.
City and county leaders now will review the proposal and decide whether to accept it. There was no word on when that could happen.