The Columbus Crew hopes to play in a new stadium by summer 2021. Last December, Columbus city officials and the Haslam Sports Group announced a vision to build a $230 million stadium for the Crew on a site west of Huntington Park in the Arena District.
But so far, no deal has been finalized to sell the land to the team owners.
Here is what we know about the status of the Columbus Crew stadium, the history of the land and what must be done to seal the deal.
Why Does The Crew Want This Spot In Particular?
For one, it's the last parcel of available land left in the Arena District.
When former Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt announced in 2017 that he might relocate the team, he said he'd only stay if a new stadium was built downtown. The next year, Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, the Edwards family of Columbus, and the Columbus Partnership teamed up to purchase the Crew from Precourt Sports Ventures.
The new owners agreed with Precourt’s assessment that a new downtown stadium is necessary. They want to develop the parcel into something called Confluence Village, which they think possesses greater economic potential than MAPFRE, the current stadium located near I-71.
The team's owners imagine greater walkability and mixed-use development, so people can shop and eat out nearby before and after games.
Why Haven't The Crew Bought The Land Yet?
Though Columbus Crew's new owners have released mockups of their stadium plans, they haven't actually purchased the land for Confluence Park. The group is still working on an official deal with Nationwide Realty Investors, which has been developing the site for the past two decades.
All parties express confidence that an agreement is around the corner. However, nobody can confirm an exact timeline on when the deal will go through.
When WOSU spoke with Cleveland Browns vice president Ted Tywang in June, he said even though there hasn’t been a final transaction, Crew investors have been able to do some remediation work on the stadium land.
What's The History Of The Crew Stadium Site?
Columbus Historian Ed Lentz said the spot picked by the Crew has been an occupied piece of land for more than 200 years.
“People settled in this part of the world first in frontier Franklinton and then later in the new capital city of Columbus, because it’s at the confluence of two rivers: the Scioto and the Olentangy,” Lentz said.
Lentz says the original settlement was on the West Side above the confluence site, and that the east side remained undeveloped because it was relatively low and prone to flooding. But when land downtown started getting expensive, factories started moving away from the Scioto River and towards the confluence.
“A lot of factories that ended up on this site that we’re talking about are factories that ended up doing nasty, dirty dangerous business,” Lentz said. “The Jaeger Machine Works company makes equipment basically for the mixing of concrete, but they also had a foundry on that site.”
The foundries were hot and dangerous, so Lentz said the land remained inexpensive.
“And therefore is attractive to the city of Columbus at the turn of the century, when it’s looking for a place to put a new municipal light plant, which it does right up there along the river to the west of the Jaeger site,” Lentz said.
It wasn’t until the smaller factories moved into decline and Jaeger Machine Works closed in 1992 that the land cleared out.
The site came back into play in 2009, whens Ohioans approved a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling in four locations: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Columbus.
According to Mike Curtin, retired president of The Dispatch Printing Company, Penn National Gaming out of Wyomissing, Pa., won the right to set up a casino in Columbus. The company wanted to set up shop right at the confluence, where the Crew stadium is now planned.
In fact, it was the only place they could build a casino in town.
“Very few voters in Central Ohio were aware that in the ballot issue, the actual parcel numbers were included in the ballot issue to specify that only on that land on Nationwide Blvd. could the Columbus casino be built,” Curtin explained.
Curtin says then-Dispatch publisher John Wolfe led a campaign to move the casino somewhere else, citing projected traffic congestion and fearing that the Arena District would effectively turn into a casino district. The Dispatch Printing Company, which no longer has a newspaper but remains a large commercial real estate entity, owns 20% of everything in the Arena District.
“There’s no direct access to that site from the north because I-670 is there, or from the west because Olentangy River is there, or from the south because because the municipal light plant is there,” Curtin said. “The only real access is from the East along Nationwide Blvd, and so the projected traffic volume of 10,000 cars.”
Wolfe won out, and the Hollywood Casino opened on the city's West Side in October 2012.
Curtin says accessibility issues persist, but that key players in the Crew deal are aware and will make plans for it.
“I think officials of the Columbus Crew and officials of the city and the county and business leadership all acknowledge that they have a challenging ingress and egress issue to solve,” Curtin says.