Blue Jackets come out against ticket tax that would benefit Nationwide Arena

Columbus Business First – Oct 30, 2018

Nationwide Arena’s main tenant isn’t keen on a ticket tax.

According to a letter sent to Columbus City Council on Oct. 11 – the same day members held a public forum on the proposed 7 percent tax – Columbus Blue Jackets President Mike Priest said their fans “overwhelmingly oppose” a fee on arts, sporting and cultural events in the city.

The letter was sent to council a week after the team hired Saperstein Associates to survey fans about the tax.

“A 7 percent admissions tax would materially harm our business,” Priest said in the letter. “Its implementation would result in lost revenue through an erosion of our season ticket base.

“To endure substantial losses in this area would adversely affect our business, and subsequently, consumer spending throughout the Arena District.”

Priest argued that the tax would hurt an organization that has pumped $150 million back into the local economy and $10.4 million to local charities since its debut in 2000.

Karen Davis, a spokeswoman for the Blue Jackets, confirmed that Priest sent the letter but declined to comment.

Todd Sharrock, vice president of communications for the Blue Jackets, told me that team officials “understand it is vital to find a public funding solution for the arts,” but that they don’t think the presented 7 percent fee should be the solution.

The Greater Columbus Arts Council is behind the proposed 7 percent surcharge that would raise as much as $13 million annually, with 70 percent of the resulting revenue going to arts organizations and 30 percent to capital expenditures at Nationwide Arena.

Supporters of the ticket tax say current public funding for the arts and revenue from ticket sales, philanthropy and memberships is not enough to help the city’s arts organizations grow or withstand a downturn. They also argue that the 20-year-old, publicly owned Nationwide Arena is in desperate need of repairs to remain competitive against other cities and bring events to Columbus.

Arts Council CEO Tom Katzenmeyer argued in a public forum recently that not upgrading Nationwide Arena would result in fewer attendees than an additional 7 percent fee.

“Arts and culture generates half a billion dollars in economic activity and the arena (adds a) significant impact on top of that,” Katzenmeyer said at the meeting. “A stronger public investment is essential to prevent erosion of these benefits to our community.”

Columbus City Council member Michael Stinziano told me that the Nationwide Arena part of the ticket tax equation continues to be a “focal point” of concern among residents.

“I do value and feel that the arena is absolutely an asset in our portfolio to attract conventions and events,” he said. “But I do think that additional discussions need to occur to see if a user fee really is the right way to address capital needs for the arena.”

Jami Goldstein, vice president of marketing, communications and events for the Arts Council, and Don Brown, executive director of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority, said in a joint statement that more conversations are needed with the Blue Jackets.

Bret Adams, a local sports and entertainment lawyer who co-owns The Bluestone event venue, and Mike Gonidakis, a Central Ohio attorney, said they met with City Council President Shannon Hardin on Monday to discuss their concerns with the tax.

“If your primary tenant is against this, it is going to be hard to keep Nationwide Arena as a part of the discussion,” Adams said.

In an email, Michael Brown, chief of staff for City Council, said Hardin has met with a number of people representing venues, events and institutions, including the Columbus Museum of Art and Ohio State University.

Priest was one of those who has talked with Hardin.

“We are concerned about the future of Nationwide Arena, since we now own it, but we are also concerned about our other arts facilities that are aging, including Franklin Park Conservatory, COSI, the CAPA theaters,” Brown wrote.

Brown said that Hardin will suggest any changes to the proposal by mid-November. After that he will host another public hearing and more stakeholder sessions.