With the Columbus Blue Jackets reporting record financial losses over the past few seasons, totaling over $80 million in the last six years and $25 million last year, they’re an organization that’s in desperate need of help to get out of their money woes. With so much money bleeding from the Blue Jackets, owner John P. McConnell has said that if things aren’t turned around that he’ll have to move the team.
While wins haven’t been easy to come by and they’ve made the playoffs just once in franchise history, there’s a plan on the table to try and ensure that the Blue Jackets can stay in Columbus.
This afternoon, a proposal was announced that would see Nationwide, the insurance company that owns the naming rights to the Blue Jackets arena, as well as Franklin County, Ohio and the City of Columbus would team up together along with revenues from a proposed casino to buy the arena.
Doug Caruso of The Columbus Dispatch outlines the plans to help keep the team in Columbus.
Franklin County and Columbus would pledge up to a third of the tax revenue they collect from the Hollywood Casino on the West Side through 2039 to finance the $42.5 million purchase of the arena from Nationwide Realty Investors and pay to operate it, said John Rosenberger, a lawyer hired by Columbus and the county in 2009 to negotiate an arena deal. The Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority would own the arena.
Under the agreement, Nationwide would invest $52 million in the Blue Jackets and would take a 30 percent ownership interest in the team. It would have naming rights to the arena for 10 years.
It’s no secret that money is tight in America and using public money to finance the purchase of an arena, even split up over many groups, raises a giant red flag. While the arena would then belong to the county, the fact that it’s money from the people and not a private firm or even the Blue Jackets owners, is the part that makes this deal seem very curious.
We’ve seen proposals using public money land with a thud in Glendale and on Long Island and those were deals that would’ve secured the location of the Coyotes in Arizona and the Islanders on Long Island for years to come. Those matters were shot down either by government watchdogs or via public vote.
In Columbus, this deal would need to be approved by a vote of the Columbus City Council and Franklin County commissioners to make it work. As for what the deal will do to slow down the losses, Caruso breaks down the numbers.
The deal is expected to save the team $9.5 million a year. The team would agree to remain in Columbus through at least 2039.
The $42 million purchase price for the arena is slightly lower than the $44 million value Nationwide placed on it during court proceedings to set the taxable value of the building in 2006, a case in which it was in the company’s interest to set the price as low as possible. The county auditor had valued the arena at $129.7 million. It cost $147.1 million to build in 1999, Nationwide said at the time.
The state of Ohio would help out with the purchase through a $10 million loan, half of which can be forgiven by the state.
The part that makes the use of public money more irksome is the fact that people in the area voted against using public money to build the arena in the first place. Using it now to make sure the lead tenant can stick around seems like an end-around way of getting what they wanted in the first place.
We’re all for doing the right thing to keep a team in place, but the use of taxpayer money is what will always make us feel awkward. If it’s money that had no other destination for usage that’s fine, but burning public bucks during tough financial times makes the situation feel nervous. The Blue Jackets are the only major professional team in Columbus and letting the arena go vacant would be a tough blow to the city and the community so this move could be viewed as one meant to keep the economy rolling until 2039, it just feels a little bit uncomfortable going all in on supporting it.
Update (5:37 p.m.): Blue Jackets team president Mike Priest issued a statement about the deal on the team’s website.
“We are appreciative of the comprehensive work and due diligence delivered in this report. Mr. Dorrian, Bill Jennison and John Rosenberger each understand the issues and this report offers a solution that will provide a long term sustainable business model for the organization. We are encouraged by the report’s findings.”