The recent demolition of Veterans Memorial will bring major changes to the Arnold Sports Festival in 2015.

The recent demolition of Veterans Memorial will bring major changes to the Arnold Sports Festival in 2015.

The festival will be split into two parts for its March 5-8 run, with the main festival held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Downtown, and the Arnold Kids Fitness Expo staging youth events on their own for the first time at the Ohio Expo Center, off 17th Avenue near Interstate 71.

It's the first time one single event in Columbus has entirely booked both the 1.7 million square feet of the Convention Center and the Expo Center's 1 million-plus square feet.

Event organizer Jim Lorimer, who created the annual festival with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1989, said putting the kids in their own location will help highlight that side of the festival.

"We're putting the focus on it and making it attractive," he said. "We're letting parents know an opportunity is there, and it's a really good opportunity. ... It's about providing a variety of ways that kids can express themselves physically."

The Arnold Kids Fitness Expo will feature a range of sports and games, from powerlifting and archery to cheerleading, martial arts and Frisbee golf.

Local professional teams such as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Columbus Crew SC will have players in attendance, in hopes of showing children a variety of activities.

Lorimer said organizers are expecting upward of 200 different vendor display booths in the Kids Expo, to be held in the Bricker Building.

"A kid may never have seen an epee (a fencing sword)," Lorimer said. "With our wide range of exposure and events, they can."

The festival's huge cheerleading competition will get its own building, the Celeste Center, which can seat 10,200 and features a 72-foot stage.

Archery, boosted by a recent surge in youth interest in the wake of the popular Hunger Games movies, also gets its own facility -- in the nearby Lausche Building.

Youth equestrian sports, table tennis and even pickleball will be on display, also in their own buildings, at the Cooper Arena, Voinovich Center and Buckeye Building.

But the highlight of the Kids Expo might not be a physical activity at all.

A featured event of the weekend will be the Arnold's Kids Got Talent show, with 20 youngsters competing in vocal arts and dance and other talents (including one magician) on Saturday afternoon, March 7.

Afterward, Schwarzenegger -- a chess buff -- will take on local 8-year-old chess prodigy Emma Cheng of Dublin. Lorimer said inclusion of a chess area to demonstrate mental fitness is a natural for the festival. And he said he's assured Schwarzenegger that he stands "no chance" at the chess board against the Dublin third-grader.

Given the 2.4-mile distance between the main festival and the Kids Expo, the Arnold will be providing free transportation shuttles between the two sites all weekend long. Anyone can park at the fairgrounds for $6 and get a wristband to get into both locations.

When Veterans Memorial closed, organizers had to scramble to make new plans, and Lorimer said the result has been an achievement in Columbus civic cooperation, planning and creativity.

"Because of the demographic at Veterans Memorial, the community stepped in quite swiftly," he said, noting that the Dispatch Home & Garden Show (now Feb. 14-22) and other events changed their dates to accommodate the Arnold.

While organizers may not have planned to be so spread out, Lorimer is confident that the change is for the better.

"No one has ever undertaken the use of both of the largest facilities in town," he said. "It could be a very pivotal year for us."