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Glenn School study finds big economic boost from Columbus Blue Jackets and Arena District

When the National Hockey League's Columbus Blue Jackets moved into Nationwide Arena in 1998, the team brought more than just increased traffic to the Arena District on game nights. A report completed by the John Glenn School of Public Affairs and released by the Blue Jackets April 22 quantifies some of the economic, social and physical changes to the area around Nationwide Arena over the last decade.

"This is really a model of ways to use an arena to help revitalize downtowns," said Glenn School professor Robert Greenbaum, who managed much of the economic research involved in the study.

Greenbaum said the development of the Arena District over the last 10 years is an example of "making something out of nothing." The area between downtown Columbus and the Short North once was home to a state prison. In recent years more than $1 billion in investments has been committed to the area and a vibrant array of retail and service businesses, office buildings, housing complexes, and a movie theater have sprung up around Nationwide Arena.

Although it's difficult to determine whether such developments would have come to the Arena District without hockey team, Greenbaum called the Blue Jackets' coming a "catalyst" for the growth.

"It's hard to get an estimate of what the new impact is," he said. "But what the Blue Jackets did is allowed all this to happen in one place."

The study was conducted in two phases, one examining the impact of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena on the city and the other analyzing the economic impact of the Arena District. Glenn School visiting scholar Dave Wirick managed the study, Ohio State University sociology professor Timothy Curry measured non-economic impacts of the hockey team and arena. Glenn School doctoral student Reena Uppal assisted with the analysis.

In addition to increased business development and employment in the area, the study found that the Blue Jackets contribute to a sense of pride and connection to the community among fans. According to a survey conducted at a March 2008 home game, more than 90 percent of respondents were proud of Columbus for having a professional hockey team, and 78 percent believed the "Blue Jackets give the rest of the country the idea that Columbus is a big-time city."

The study, which was completed in July 2008, was paid for by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nationwide Realty Investors and the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority.

Although Glenn School faculty often conduct research with government and nonprofit agencies, collaboration with private entities has been less common. Greenbaum said the study is "a little bit unique" because the Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena are for-profit organizations that promote themselves as community assets.

"The lines between for-profits and not-for-profits are a little grey," he said.

Greenbaum noted that the creation of the arena and the mixed-use development spaces around it are the result of investment by both private entities and the City of Columbus. Other cities and states, including Toronto and New Jersey, also are exploring arena-area development strategies similar to Columbus' Arena District, he said.

"The idea is to focus more broadly than just a home for the sports team."
Other findings from the study include:

An increase of more than 50 percent in the number of businesses in the Arena District since 2000. In addition to the Blue Jackets, the district's 172 businesses include coffee shops, a movie theater and professional service firms.

These businesses employed more than 5,000 full- and part-time workers in 2006, and between 2000 and 2006 they generated $1.46 billion in payroll and $6.13 billion in revenue.

Over the last 10 years, $850 million in spending in central Ohio can be attributed directly to the Blue Jackets, the Destroyers and Nationwide Arena. Out-of-town visitors to the arena generated about $160 million in spending since 2001.

Most of the six housing complexes in the Arena District have an occupancy rate of more than 90 percent, making the district home to about 800 residents. The district's 1 million square feet of office space had an occupancy rate of 95 percent in May 2008.

Appraised property values in the Arena District increased by 267 percent between 1999 and 2008, compared to a 22 percent increase in property values for the entire downtown area.

This is really a model of ways to use an arena to help revitalize downtowns ...making something out of nothing.
— Dr. Robert Greenbaum

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