COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Columbus may have trouble holding on to the NHL’s Blue Jackets because the club has been losing $12 million a year in central Ohio, according to a report released Thursday by a business group.
The report from the Columbus Chamber offers a variety of options for strengthening the hockey team’s financial position, such as new taxes or fees to support it.
Other suggestions include allowing the team to renegotiate its lease for Nationwide Arena or trying to attract a second major tenant, such as a basketball team.
“It is important that our community retain this team,” said Dave Blom, chairman of the Columbus Chamber board. “The Columbus Blue Jackets impact our regional economy, support thousands of jobs and bring millions of dollars in tax revenue that contribute to our quality of life.”
Columbus Blue Jackets President Mike Priest said that the team’s current economic model has “significant disadvantages” and that it plans to work with public and private groups to find a solution.
Priest said the Blue Jackets, now in their ninth season, have built and maintained fan and corporate participation that has supported the team.
“Public partnership in arenas and stadiums has been a critical element to ensuring healthy, competitive sports franchises in markets across the country, including Cleveland and Cincinnati in Ohio, and our priority continues to be to secure long-term financial viability in this great city,” he said.
Nationwide is one of the few NHL facilities in the country that is privately owned — largely because county voters wanted it that way. They have rejected arena tax issues three times between 1986 and 1997.
The team’s owners unsuccessfully asked that the current state budget include a tax increase on beer, wine, liquor and cigarettes in Franklin County to raise $65 million to underwrite a county takeover of the arena.
Local voters have repeatedly rejected public financing of the center, and the tax increase was opposed by members of the beer and wine industry, including brewing giant Anheuser-Busch, which operates one of its 12 U.S. breweries in the city.
The Blue Jackets qualified for the first time last year for the NHL Western Conference playoffs, losing in the first round to the Detroit Red Wings.
The team came to town nine years ago through significant private funding — much of it from the late John H. McConnell of steel finishing company Worthington Industries. McConnell died a year ago, leaving his son John P. McConnell at the helm of the business.