Saturday, December 5, 2009

Arena Update!!

The Columbus Dispatch reported today that John Rosenberger has been tabbed to lead the effort to coordinate efforts to provide a long term solution for Nationwide Arena and the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Rosenberger was involved in many of the discussions that led to the development of Nationwide Arena, and was a key player in the development of City Center.  While that venture did not enjoy long term success, it was the crown jewel of downtown until suburban development eroded its base. 

The appointment of Rosenberger is significant in two important respects.  First, coming on the heels of the Chamber of Commerce report on some options that can be explored, it represents a logical next step in the process, and provides solid public confirmation that work is underway in earnest.  That this occurred so quickly after the report has to send positive signals to Priest and McConnell.    I am also sure that Gary Bettman's visit to Columbus earlier this week was, as he claimed, pure coincidence. . . .;-)  Secondly, Rosenberger is a veteran of crafting partnerships between

However, having spent much time and effort researching and writing about various aspects of the Arena issue since it first came to light, today's announcement has a much more significant indicator attached to it.  The announcement was made by City of Columbus Mayor Coleman's office, and the Mayor himself issued a statement relating to the appointment.  Why does this matter?   This represents the first public acknolwedgement of involvement in the Arena issue on the part of the City.  For the major part of the past year, Coleman and the city fathers have been devoted to the City's own tax initiative, and have been notably silent on this question, leaving the Franklin County Commissioners and the Chamber of Commerce to bear the brunt of attention.

As I have noted in prior articles, the City has a very big dog in this fight, as it reaps a tremendous percentage of the annual tax boon that comes from Arena District revenue.  The added tourism, and more extended benefits, while harder to quantify, are just as real.  While the tax increase creates revenue, that added inflow will pale to the losses that will come if the Arena and Blue Jackets situation is not solved.  Coleman understands this, and with the economy turning around, now is the time to get engaged.  It sends a strong signal that the process is working, and everyone should be encouraged by that.

Another positive coming out of today's announcement was the tone Rosenberger sounded in characterizing the mission he was embracing:

"While it may generally be believed that this is all about the Blue Jackets, this actually is more about the competitiveness of Columbus as a regional and national destination and as a generator of jobs and economic activity,"

Bingo!!!  The Jackets, the Arena and the Arena District are all intertwined into the fabric of the local culture and economy.  Edmonton and Kansas City are studing both the arena and the Arena District as a model for their efforts (both of which, by the way, have a substantial public funding component).  There is too much to lose in this effort, and Coleman is not going to let this ship sink on his watch.  It is important to keep the focus where it belongs -- as a regional economic issue, not a Blue Jackets bailout.

Do today's developments mean that a solution is imminent?  Probably not -- these things are complicated and take time.  However, this is an important step.  A visible individual with the right skills and connections has been brought into the picture, and that is a good thing.  Again, while Commissioner Bettman's presence in town this week is not likely of great significance, it is also likely not the mere fortuitous event that he would have us believe. Just another indicia of progress.

Sometimes the things that are not said are as important as the things that are expressed.  Discussions like this almost always are more productive when they can be held outside the glare of publicity.  When those discussions do not happen fast enough, or go poorly, the dissatisfied parties almost always find a way to get their displeasure expressed, either directly or through minions.  The severity and urgency of threats tend to increase, and oblique references to hard dates start creeping into the discussion.  We have not seen any of that as yet, and that is also a very good sign. 

Likely much to be done, but cautious optimism is certainly not unreasonable.  Let's allow the process to work.

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