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Good news on the arena front

In a summer that has been short on news in general, it was nice to hear some positive words about Nationwide Arena from Columbus Blue Jackets President Mike Priest last night.

The Blue Jackets lease the arena from Nationwide Insurance, which privately funded the construction of the approximately $106 million facility after voters stuck down a proposed countywide ‘sin tax’ in 1997. As a result of their unique lease with the insurance giant, the Blue Jackets have lost upwards of $80 million over the past seven plus seasons.

A couple months ago, I spoke with Ohio State Professor Emeritus Stephen Buser, who led a study on the financial viability of the Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena. His report offered a number of possible solutions to help the ailing franchise, and one of steps has already come to fruition in a Nationwide Arena-Schottenstein Center joint management deal. That is by no means a solution, but it is a step in the right direction.

On Wednesday night, Priest revealed little in his words, but sounded very optimistic.

“This is probably the first time I get to say this: we’re making really good progress. We actually have taken a large step forward,” he said. “I’ve got great confidence that we’re going to get something done in a manner that is not going to be a burden on the community.”

The “burden on the community” he spoke of is likely a reference to any sort of sales tax increase that would allow Franklin County to purchase the arena. That comes as no surprise, given the state of the economy and the fact numerous economic experts including Buser and Ty Marsh, CEO of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, have reiterated that increasing taxes is not the route to go.

“I would say more in the near term than not. Within the next season we should be able to get a solution,” he said. “I’ve got to make it clear, we don’t have any commitments. We have no agreements in place, but the dialogue has been very productive. The ideas that are being submitted have real possibilities.”

Priest appears to have softened his stance a bit, after suggesting earlier this week that a deal could be struck “10 to 20 days.” The change of heart, or rather words, likely has more to do with the delicate negotiation process than backtracking.

He once again emphasized that despite speculation, the Blue Jackets will remain in Columbus for the foreseeable future.

“We’re here. We’re not going to go anywhere. We’re going to get this done.”

- Bart Logan

bartftc@gmail.com

Twitter: @bart_logan

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