Northwest News

Nationwide Arena

Group looks to end taxpayer support of facility


Making good on a promise it made a year ago, the Columbus Coalition for a Responsive Government will seek an end to a taxpayer bailout of Nationwide Arena.

The group dropped off 17,200 signatures at City Hall Thursday, Dec. 5, demanding that Columbus City Council stop payments to purchase the arena.

Jon Beard, spokesman for the coalition, said taxpayers -- who have rejected public financing for the arena five times in the past -- shouldn't be on the hook for bad corporate investments.

"The notion that we're bailing out this behemoth, the idea that this is a taxpayers' problem now, is ludicrous," Beard said.

Council could act independently to terminate its financial obligations to the arena, a move that the coalition does not expect, Beard said.

So, if nearly 5,000 signatures are deemed valid, the issue could make it onto the primary ballot.

Beard said the group is not against the Blue Jackets, the NHL hockey team that was consistently losing money, according to its owners.

"This isn't a 'defund the arena' thing," he said. "It's not a punitive thing. We're 'Go Jackets.' This is not a Jackets thing at all."

The joint subsidy by the city and the Franklin County Board of Commissioners is saving the team about $9.5 million a year.

Local officials defended their decision, saying the investment was well worth the return in tax receipts and they are protecting 10,000 jobs in the area.

Beard called that "fear mongering."

"We don't think the Blue Jackets were in any danger of leaving town," Beard said.

The coalition is forging ahead with its Dare 2B Fair initiative, a four-point plan that includes creating council districts, reinstituting public-access TV and campaign-finance reform, the latter of which has gained traction recently.

The group turned in petitions last month looking to change the way City Council and mayoral races are funded.

Candidates who agreed to limit campaign contributions would be given access to a pool of $300,000 of casino-tax revenue. That issue could also make the primary ballot.

Last year, the coalition failed to get enough valid signatures to put on the ballot an issue that would create a system of at-large and district representation, also known as wards, on City Council.

Beard said the group is not done pursuing that issue.