Nationwide Arena Still Can't Pay Back Loans After 'Banner Year'

May 30, 2018

Columbus Arena Management predicts it will close its fiscal year at the end of June with a profit of $108,897. But that money will quickly disappear. 

On Wednesday afternoon, at its only public meeting of the year, Columbus Area Management announced that this summer it will replace two of the three chillers used to cool Nationwide Arena, the home of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The project will cost $1.2 million, eating up most of that profit. The rest of the costs will come from a $2.3 million rainy-day fund.

But Don Brown, director of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority, says that’s not concerning.

“We’re having a banner year,” Brown says. “This is the highest-grossing year we've had in terms of revenues and ticketed attendance in six years.”

Columbus Arena Management is focused on finding a permanent revenue stream to help meet its deferred capital improvement needs, according to Brown. It has not made any payments on a $44 million loan from Nationwide Realty Investors.

“That's off the radar right now,” Brown says. “We have reached a settlement with the state loan for Nationwide Arena and we have begun paying that off. It will be paid off in five years.”

The focus right now is selling tickets and beating out other cities in Columbus’ competitive set – Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. The Columbus Blue Jackets made up about 40 percent of the arena's business from last year.

“The Jackets had a historic season and it was the second year in a row they made the playoffs,” says Mike Gatto, general manager of Nationwide Arena. “Attendance was up, average attendance was up. Three playoff games, one set a record for the building. So a tremendous year.”

Despite the arena's "tremendous year," it would not have made a cent of profit without $4.6 million in casino-tax revenue. The City of Columbus and Franklin County agreed to use a portion of the casino tax to buy and operate Nationwide Arena in 2012.  

A budget outline and audit firm selection passed unanimously at the meeting.

“We have to sell the tickets, but then when they come here they have to say, 'Wow, this is a terrific venue.' And that takes continued reinvestment," Brown says. "We think we need to be reinvesting $3-4 million dollars a year every year for the next 10 years to keep this 20-year old arena performing on all 8 cylinders.”