Field of Schemes
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May 29, 2009

Blue Jackets seek taxpayer lease bailout

The Columbus Blue Jackets' Nationwide Arena has gotten lots of praise as a model of a privately financed sports facility (though the city did kick in for infrastructure costs) — so naturally, nine years after it opened, the Blue Jackets are looking for those subsidies that voters made them do without back then. Team president David Peacock met with state political leaders this week to seek a tax hike on beer, wine, and cigarettes that would, in the words of the Associated Press, "raise an estimated $65 million a year, which would help offset team losses and help the county pay for a bond sale to buy the arena."

How this would work: The arena is currently owned by Nationwide Insurance and the Columbus Dispatch, which paid to build it and, naturally enough, expect the Blue Jackets to pay enough rent to pay off their arena bonds. The Blue Jackets claim they can't do this on the revenues they bring in from arena events — remember what I've said before about sports facilities seldom paying for themselves? — and are hoping the county can use the new taxes to buy the arena and give them a new lease, one that not only cuts their rent, but absolves them from paying $1 million a year to the local school district out of ticket taxes, something that was arranged to compensate for the full property tax exemption the team was given when the arena was built.

In other words, the Blue Jackets want the county to buy the arena because they want a landlord that will bail out their losses by cutting their rent. They could always just ask Nationwide for a lease break, but apparently public officials are a softer touch.

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