February 3, 2023

Nationwide Arena GM: Renovation Took CBJ Locker Room “From the Bottom of the Barrel to the Top”

Most fans won’t see the $12 million in renovations taking place at Nationwide Arena in the past two years (with more to come this summer), but the work is vital to the facility’s future. Thanks to a flurry of construction in the 2021 and 2022 off-seasons, the spaces used for preparation and relaxation by Columbus Blue Jackets players — along with divas, dancers, drummers and anyone else performing at the area — have gone from shabby to showy.

“The back-of-house space is the driver of business,” said Derek Smith, arena general manager and overseer of the project. “People coming in, the players and entertainers, want a clean and comfortable space.”

In 2021 and before, Jackets players were less than happy with the locker rooms and other facilities, which were essentially unchanged since the arena’s 2000 opening, down to the white-painted cinderblock walls. They were due for an upgrade. “We got the money’s worth out of (the original facilities), let’s put it that way,” Smith said. As for the players, “This is their practice facility and their home ice; this is the only place they go,” he said.

Work began in 2021 with the locker room and restroom, and recovery areas. This past summer, the biggest phase of the project transformed the players’ dining area, a lounge for players’ families and VIPs, and dressing rooms for entertainers. The final phase this coming summer will add three additional star dressing rooms and renovated officials’ dressing rooms.

Smith considers it “the project of a lifetime,” adding, “One of the cool things is quite a few of the guys who built the arena 23 years ago were on this project. It wasn’t just going to work — it was like their home. They took pride in it.”

The new locker room’s “wow” feature is a large, four-sided video panel suspended from the ceiling in the center of the room — think “personal team Jumbotron.” Besides updated wall finishes and better-quality lockers, the room also has welcome accommodations like Bluetooth capability and atmospheric touches like color-changing LED light accents.

Expanding the weight room to the industry’s common size today was a challenge. Unlike in the off-site practice rinks used by some teams, the footprint of the Arena’s weight room couldn’t grow. Smith said, “So, we put in a mezzanine level, essentially doubling the space. We just had to get creative.”

The shower and recovery areas were upgraded from grim-looking all-grey fixtures to more home-like ones. Two new therapy pools offer hot or cold immersion — whichever a player needs for overworked muscles and joints.

Jackets players and their visiting opponents like the changes, Smith said. “There’s been a lot of hype about what we’ve done. Other arenas want to know about it — it’s kind of a trendsetter for older buildings.”

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