Blue Jackets bailout could go from bad to worse as team seeks more “glamorous” locker rooms

When I’m asked what I think is the worst sports subsidy deal in history, and I’m asked that a lot, my go-to response is that every unhappy stadium deal is unhappy in its own way. But when pressed to pick a few for the all-time Hall of Shame, I’ll occasionally find room for the Columbus Blue Jackets arena bailout, if only because it turned a model of private arena financing into a massive public subsidy just because the team owners whined that they weren’t making enough money. And then the city of Columbus agreed to give Nationwide Insurance, which put up the money for the original private arena construction, $62 million in added tax money when it turned out casino tax revenues weren’t going to cover the original deal.

If you see this headed toward “more good money thrown after bad,” you’re way ahead of me. Take it away, Columbus Dispatch:

Okay, so maybe the Dispatch got so excited it couldn’t remember how verbs work. The point is, as the paper discussed in an accompanying story with a more grammatical headline, the 20-year-old arena needs not just a new roof, but “$94.4 million in capital-improvement expenses over the next five years.”

The good news is that arena authority director Don Brown says the general public won’t pay for the upgrade costs, because it has a repair fund already set aside, funded by “casino tax and admissions tax proceeds.” The less good news is that these taxes would otherwise go into the general fund if they weren’t being siphoned off for the arena fund; the even less good news is that thanks to casino and admissions tax shortfalls in recent years, the repair fund currently just has $454,000 left in it, plus a $2.4 million reserve fund, which is a lot less than $94.4 million.

The Dispatch article goes on to say that the Blue Jackets and their partners in operating the arena — Nationwide and Ohio State University — will be on the hook for arena upgrade costs, but also that the team’s lease requires that the building be kept in “first class” condition, which seems likely to be a point of contention in any disputes over where to come up with $90 million. Among the items that the arena authority cited the hockey team as wanting to have improved:

The locker room for Blue Jackets players is “reasonably well-appointed but is not as glamorous as NHL home locker rooms in newer facilities,” and could use a “thorough” upgrade. The player lounge and training areas are well-maintained “but not impressive,” and the players’ family lounge “does not present an NHL-level image.”

Well, we certainly can’t have that! What will the neighbors say?

There’s a lot of confusing language in the arena operating arrangement — the public arena authority is part of the management group, but isn’t responsible for upgrade cash unless OSU backs out — but given that we’ve already seen Columbus bail out the private parties for no good reason other than that they asked for it, it’s hard to rule out anything. The main takeaway here is that the Blue Jackets are publicly seeking $94 million to replace their roof and bling up their locker rooms, which is always a sign that taxpayers should hold onto their wallets.

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13 comments on “Blue Jackets bailout could go from bad to worse as team seeks more “glamorous” locker rooms

  1. tell the team what fans hear every time we look for better players that we can not afford because we are a small market team. these players build parks for their community every year why not a new locker room.

  2. I’m reminded of the city of Houston not wanting to dip into their all-too-literal rainy day fund after the hurricane caused massive flooding.

    Because it was better to ask the feds for the money instead.

    I suppose that’s how things work these days? Set aside money but then ask for more. That’s winning!

  3. Does Stu Sternberg asking for a billion dollar stadium for a part time team when baseball’s business model is changing from making $500 out of 15,000 instead of $50 out of 30,000 make your top ten?

  4. Such crybaby bullshit. Where’s the article about the hundreds of millions in tax subsides given to billion-dollar corporations like Amazon? Making record profits every year yet being showered with free taxpayer money for no reason other than existing. Fuck off

    1. Those would be here:

  5. Having been to Columbus exactly once, I find myself wondering if these people have forgotten that they live there.

    Almost everything they are saying about the arena applies to the city as a whole. Non glamourous locker rooms seem like a thing the team can pay to fix itself. In any case, complaining about them at a time like this is utterly tone deaf.

    They can just move somewhere else. Columbus would not miss them.

    1. You presume a great deal for someone who has visited our city one time.
      BTW, the Jackets are contractually obligated to play in Columbus until 2039. Mr. McConnell’s legacy isn’t moving anywhere.

      1. Once was more than enough, thanks. And if the team facilities are below whatever glamourous standard is required by the lease the team would be free to claim a breach of lease conditions and begin searching for a new home.

        They won’t, because there isn’t a better deal out there. So they will simply try to extract as much blood from the taxpayers as they can.

        How are things on MB Alpha these days, Captain Koenig?

  6. I remember a time when bad locker rooms added to the mystique and reputedly gave home ice advantage.

    Maybe the plan should be to make a nice home locker room and actively make the visitor locker room worse?

    If you’re a smaller city like Columbus, this is the (dumb) entrance cost to “big league status.” As if hosting a great research university is some kind of add-on.

  7. “couldn’t remember how verbs work”

    Ohio people talk that way, for some reason. It’s pretty damn annoying.

    1. I’ve heard (or heard of, anyway) the “needs done” thing before, but “needs replaced” seems especially odd. Especially in a newspaper headline.

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