February 27, 2020

Nationwide Arena Preparing for a Physical Exam

Twenty years ago, what is now known as the Arena District was an abandoned area that once housed the Ohio Penitentiary. Today, Nationwide Arena anchors a district that is recognized as one of the most stunning success stories in America.

But now, two decades later, the 20,000 seat Arena is due for a physical exam. 

The Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority (FCCFA) last week chose Venue Solutions Group of Brentwood, Tennessee, to perform a facility condition assessment on Columbus’ downtown civic arena. The review will reveal Nationwide Arena’s ongoing capital needs and will result in a long-term capital repair, replacement and improvement program, including possible facility and technology upgrades.

“I am excited to have this comprehensive assessment of Nationwide Arena performed by a respected collection of industry experts from multiple disciplines,” said Michael Gatto, chief operating officer for Columbus Arena Management. “The final report will not only assist with our planning for our current capital needs, but also help us prioritize the capital plan of the Arena for the next 20 to 30 years so that we can remain a viable, economically impactful and exciting venue.”

Nationwide Arena has not only added to the quality of life with the events presented, but has also had an impressive economic impact to the city of Columbus. More than 20 million guests have visited the arena since its opening in 2000, with about half from outside central Ohio. The economic impact of the arena over the past 20 years is approximately $1 billion.

“As the Arena’s owner, the Convention Facilities Authority has a responsibility to maintain and improve an important public asset and economic driver,” said Don Brown, FCCFA executive director. “Nationwide Arena is home to the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets and is host to world-class concerts and events from around the world in addition to high-profile national sporting events. Each year, guests spend millions of dollars here.”

Brown said capital reinvestment in the Arena is important to ensure it will meet the community’s needs for the next 20 years. Without that, he said the Arena could slide into obsolescence just as Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena and some other Midwest arenas, which deferred building maintenance and did not reinvest into their venues. 

Nationwide Arena opened in 2000 as a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment facility. The opening of the Arena sparked the growth of the Arena District, which has led to three sports teams, restaurants and other businesses plus more than 1,000 homes.  The $1.2 billion in private investment in the neighborhood has created more than 10,000 jobs. Another $1 billion of new private development is planned or underway.

Paying for capital improvements has been difficult from the moment the FCCFA took ownership in 2012. Capital improvement funds were to come from the Arena’s share of casino tax revenues. However, revenues never reached projections, meaning that improvements have been deferred.

Last July, the Greater Columbus Arts Council instigated a 5% ticket fee on all arts, culture, entertainment and sports events in Columbus. From tickets sold at Nationwide Arena, the venue is expected to receive $2 million from those fees for capital improvements each year. 

“As one of the premier sports and entertainment venues in the Midwest, it is critical that we continue to invest in this community asset in order to compete for events on both a regional and national level,” said Gatto.

“We’re eager to see what the condition assessment finds so that we can understand where our priorities need to be,” Brown said. “For example, we may find that existing facilities need to be upgraded for emerging technologies, or to improve fan experience, operational efficiencies and revenue generation.”

The facility condition assessment is to begin in March, and a report is expected in May. 

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