Saturday, October 15, 2011

YegArena: A Columbus Perspective


Over the course of the #yegarena discussions, one example that has been held as the standard of how to properly accomplish an arena district is Columbus, Ohio. With a noted population in July 2009 of 769,360 (, the comparisons to Edmonton can be what you want them to be. For the record, Edmonton’s population is listed as 782,439 (Municipal Census - April 1, 2009) for comparison purposes.

Without me travelling to Columbus, seeing the district for myself and talking to people in person, I decided to use the next best thing; Social Media. Through Aaron Portzline(@Aportzline) of the Columbus Dispatch, I was able to get the thoughts of a bunch of folks with a vested personal interest in the area. I asked them to provide how the district affected their CITY, not the hockey team.

Before we start, there’s a couple main areas that I’ve seen comparisons between the cities are:

Brewery District, Columbus = Old Strathcona, Edmonton (Places south of DT where bars, restaurants exist but not really a part of development)
Short North, Columbus - Jasper Ave between about 124st and 109st between River Valley and 104th ave. We need a cool name for this about the Mullet? In!

Thank you @TimWingfield for providing this map

This will allow you to plan this out and compare in your own head, the impact of what might happen.

I’ll try and go through one email at a time add my comments (**EC**) to relate to Edmonton the way I see it. If you want the text of the whole email, just ask me (@edmontoncritic)

Area redevelopment:

@UTPBrandon - Lives in Cincinnati, use to live in Columbus

Like a lot of towns in the midwest, Columbus' downtown before the arena district was a strictly Monday-Friday, 9 to 5 operation.**EC-Sound familiar?** There was no life to speak of, it had one of those half-filled, dying malls, a relic from the 70s(that has since been torn down). It was also physically disconnected from the neighborhoods north of it by a highway.**EC-104th ave?** As others will mention, the arena took a vacant penitentiary**EC-Parking lot with a casino on it** on downtowns northern edge and not only revitalized the immediate neighborhood, it (in part) helped to reconnect the downtown to the neighborhoods surrounding it.

I think a huge part of what make the arena district successful is that they made the arena just a component to an overall revitalization plan,**EC-As Edm has planned for the over $1B revitalization plan** and also they made the district an integrated part of the city, rather than a just a destination used for sports & concerts.**EC-Rexall place reno** The AD is now another neighborhood, as there is life in the area all day & night. The arena was really just a catalyst for other entertainment & development(hotels, apartments, condos): a stadium-seating multiplex, a downtown skating rink(also the jackets practice facility, indoor & outdoor concert venues, and a minor league baseball park that won awards for its construction. The AD, along with an expanded convention center a couple blocks away, formed the anchor on downtowns northside to reconnect the city with the neighborhoods next to it. The arena district sits a block over from the city's main north-south drag, High Street. It runs north through a neighborhood called Short North, and passes the campus of Ohio State University roughly two miles to the north. Short North is the hip, trendy neighborhood just below it full of restaurants and art galleries, it was pretty run down twenty ago and has now been filled by small businesses.. High Street, and many other thoroughfares surrounding the area, look nothing like what they did ten years ago. Not that the Arena District is responsible for all this, but it raised the expectations of the area”


I'm a hockey fan and a resident of Columbus, Ohio. Even if I didn't love the Blue Jackets it would be hard to ignore the impact the arena and the team has had on my city. In 1998 the abandoned state penitentiary was demolished. That same year ground broke on Nationwide Arena. **EC - Don’t expect revitalization to happen immediately after RX2 is built, it takes time to develop** The eye sore that was is now what we know as the Arena District. Today the Arena District is home to not only Nationwide Arena but Huntington Park, home of the Columbus Clippers (minor league team of the Cleveland Indians). Huntington Park was named "ballpark of the year" in 2009. The Arena District has restaurants, bars, a movie theater, office space, a music venue (The LC), and condos. **EC - Sounds like a place I’d like to hang out** The only time anyone visited Columbus before was to go to the Columbus Convention Center or to an Ohio State football game. The added tourism from having a pro sports arena and concert venue had an impact on areas outside of the Arena District. I would say the Short North, full of art galleries, restaurants, and more recently shopping was helped the most. The arena and the Blue Jackets had a direct impact on adding 8200 jobs to Columbus and an estimated $160 million on tourist spending in nearby restaurants/hotels. I believe a study was released stating property value in the area has increased over 200% **EC - Looks like I need to start saving some money to buy in our DT!!**

Ben H (Don’t have correlating twitter handle!)

“The impact of the arena district has been huge, but the arena was only a part of a much bigger plan to bring people downtown not just to work, but to live and play. Columbus had a growing number of young professionals and a relatively small number of options for weekend evening entertainment. The brewery district was the closest thing we had but its bars and restaurants were in poor condition and parking was a challenge. **EC - Sounds alot like Whyte Ave? No LRT, little parking** There were several clubs in the downtown proper, but they were fairly spread out making walking from one to the other inconvenient. **EC - Other than maybe 2 blocks on Jasper, very similar** The arena district provided these people with a new, hip, and densely concentrated area. People could park once and choose from a multitude of large clubs with themes ranging from sports bars to the ultra-hip.

The housing in the arena district befitted from an increase in demand for more urban living and the trendiness of both the new arena district and the established "Short North" which has been its own urban revitalization success story over the past 30 years. Still, what makes urban living exciting is all the people. The arena, the baseball stadium, and the teams that fill them bring thousands of people to the area 120+ days a year. The weekend club crowds, concert crowds, and various area festivals add to the excitement.” **EC - sounds like the city getting 4 weeks per year to use it maybe kinda might be a useful part of the deal, no?**


The brewery district is south of downtown, and not nearly as large. There are plenty of residences down there.**EC - Sask Drive, Whyte Ave** Near the arena district there is some older residences, and they're building all kinds of condos in the area, so there are more and more people living there every year. I also draw an area to the Short North, which is a vibrant, arts and entertainment area of the city. It's the stretch of High Street between the arena district and Ohio State University. (OSU is HUGE, 50,000 students live, work, go to class there 9 months of the year.)

So, before the arena, that section of town was really nothing. It was the old Ohio Penitentiary, which was closed in 70s and just left to rot. At one point in time, one of the pen walls fell onto Neil Ave closing it to traffic for a few weeks while it was cleaned up. So, the area was definitely not what you'd call "developing." **EC - Sounds like our beautful parking lots and anything north of 107th** Once the arena was planned, all the area around it has sprang up in a hurry. When the Jackets dropped the puck in 2000, there were 2 restaurants and a few bars within a block. Now there are probably 10 to 12 establishments right near the arena. There has been a lot of development done to the north side of the arena district because it becomes the short north pretty quickly, making for a pretty large area of town for entertainment purposes. The baseball stadium opened two years ago for our AAA team, so that just adds to all that goes on down in the area. The area immediately outside the arena has become the main gathering place for a number of downtown festivals (we have four or five major ones through the summer), and it's the finish line for the Columbus Marathon (which is this Sunday). This spring the arena will host the early rounds of the men's NCAA basketball tournament for the 3rd time. The last time we hosted those games we were the only arena that was sold out prior to the teams being announced **EC - could it be that if Edmonton had a new arena, that we might attract NEW events, not a chance, no way, not gunna happen. #sarcasm**


@TheGregWagner - 25 year resident of Columbus - Greg broke his email into 3 main impacts. Local Business, Local Gov’t, Local People. Due to length, since my focus is on impact to people, I wanted to share this. I’ll email the rest if you like.

“Local People: At least most of them. I get how some people say they just don't care about cool bars, restaurants, concerts, events, etc. and they don't want to pay for it. Fair enough. The math will have to
convince those people and if it doesn't then they are not going to be convinced. I know this, our Arena District is fun, hip and brings a swagger and a vibe to Columbus that it never had (I've lived heresince 1986). Working right next to Nationwide Arena (I work for American Electric Power), I can tell you that 8 or 9 months out of the year, many of the employees in our 31 story building head out forlunch to the restaurants in the District or go for a run or walk and enjoy the atmosphere. Many of my younger co-workers head out to the District bars after work. I often have lunch with our bankers andother business partners in the District. It's cool, it's got a vibe and it's a part of the city I am proud of. A good example is when Rush was here in Columbus back in August. We had a group of 8 (my highschool friends) that made an event out of it. My buddies came down from Toledo the night before. They stayed downtown and we partied in the District the night before the show. The day of the show - I'mtalking noon (and I think it was a weekday) - the bars were filling up with Rush fans. The plaza and corridors began to get packed a few hours later. Rush fans (Rushians?) were everywhere. Rush was blastingin all the bars. Beers, shots and all manner of food flowing furiously. For hours and hours. The concert was, predictably, fucking unbelievable! And then we hit the bars afterward. So all that wasquite awesome, in and of itself. But several of these guys commented throughout those two days, and have on occasion since, about what an incredible time they had in Columbus. Specifically, in the ArenaDistrict. The way it is set up made it feel, for that day, like it was built to host a Rush concert. The physical layout. The fact that the bars "got it." They had Rush stuff hanging up and nothing but Rush oncoming out of the speakers all day and night. I'm telling you, these guys enjoy bitching about stuff but they so impressed and had such a great experience coming down for that show. As someone who lives here,that makes me feel pretty good. There's value to me in being able to help provide such a memorable experience for my friends. I don't know how you quantify that, but it means a lot to me. We've all been goingto Rush concerts since 1980. We've been to over 50 shows in at least a dozen cities. And some damn cool cities and venues. But our experience at Nationwide Arena and in The Arena District was probably the bestone. That doesn't happen if the concert is at Ohio State's basketball arena (a competing venue in town). I'm sure a similar thing goes down when other bands are in town, or a big MMA fight, or whatever event the Arena might be hosting. The experience is enhanced so far beyond the target event itself. So far beyond parking in some garage, going to a concert and then driving back home. It's not even the same thing anymore. It's apples and oranges.

**EC - I didn’t want to ruin the flow of this story with my comments. I love this one. What a cool story about having a great time with your friends from out of town in your city. Something that you can be proud of. Awesome**

One of the questions that I posed to everyone was, knowing what you know now after the arena district was built, would you put your tax dollars into it?

@TheGregWagner - Yes, I do support public dollars for such an effort

@TimWingfield - First off, the "public money" being used for the arena now is a little different than just voting for it. Ohio recently legalized gambling in four locations around the state, one of which is located in Columbus. The taxes from that Casino (due to open in 2012) are what the city is using to pay for the arena. So, it's not straight income tax, nor is it an increase in local income tax. (IMO, it's tax money that doesn't even exist yet being used to save a rather visible part of the city.) So, as a taxpayer, these taxes really don't come out of my pocket. Well, except for the money I'd lose at blackjack at the new casino. :)

EC - Taxes that don’t exist the CRL? Also as far as the AB Gov’t is concerned with the $100M, I’ve already said that I like the Wildrose idea of a lottery to fund it. I like creative ideas so it’s not just pulling from one mouth to feed another. With the CRL being 20 years, as we've seen CLB is 10 years into this and really seeing the payoff just now.

@L_Rex - Would I vote yes to my taxes going to the arena? I don’t see how you wouldn’t vote for your taxes to support an arena that would do all that for your city

@UTPBrandon - I know when public money is involved, people lose their minds, and sometimes those people complaining are right. I live in Cincinnati, back in '96, we raised sales tax to build new stadiums for our baseball & football teams and in the case of the football stadium, we got taken. Paul Brown Stadium has been valued at costing well over 500 million dollars of public funds. Also, our version of the arena district, called The Banks, was mired in red tape and is just now in the home stretch of construction. I think in Edmonton's case, its helps that Katz is willing to contribute a large amount of funds, and I hope that your city planners work to make sure that whatever is built is well integrated into the rest of Edmonton, rather than just being a theme park with hockey.

**EC** - Cincinnati certainly did get hosed on their stadium as did Glendale. The theme? Trying to make something out of nothing. Trying to place an arena in a nothing area does nothing for the city. If the arena is a compliment to downtown and a part of an overall revitalization plan, it’s been proven to be successful. This is why I wanted to focus on Columbus and what it did for their city, not the team.

Ben H - Columbus voters care more about what they pay than what they get for the money. This is especially true of the arena district. Growing up in Columbus, I wanted nothing more than to get the heck out of here when I graduated from college. The arena district and the complete transformation it had on the city changed my mind to to the point that now I don't want to leave. I can't tell you how many of my friends share the same opinion. So, when I think about the arena district, I don't think about the businesses, housing, or the jobs. I think about the workers who would otherwise have left the city/state.

In conclusion, it would seem to me that the PEOPLE of Columbus are quite happy with the development that’s happened in their fine city. In many of the comments above, I think that you can establish that if there is not a “trendy” area, then the young professionals will leave. If you believe that's not the case, maybe you could ask people in Saskatchewan how many of their young folk hang around. If educated, they can work all over the world, why would they stay in a place that doesn’t offer them the things that they want? Ohio state university is 50,000-60,000. University of Alberta is ~50,000. When these people come here year after year, would it not be of interest for Alberta to retain a lot of these students in the Province? If they’re coming from all over the world, unless you can give them a special experience, why would they stay? Or for that matter, why would I?


baggedmilk said...

Excellent points all around. Well said.

Laura said...

I think it should also be brought up how Columbus is the poster child for the failures of non-publicly funded arenas. Yes, it all started with private funding but all that could have been for not without public funding taking over. The Blue Jackets ownership was bleeding money and threatening to move the team because of a bad lease with the arena ownership. The city saw the impact losing the team would have on the area. So they agreed to allocate casino tax money towards taking over the ownership of the arena. Now Columbus will keep the hockey team, keep the jobs, keep the restaurants, bars, urban living, nightlife, tourism dollars and keep the city relevant.

David S said...

I'm not seeing the usual litany of hater comments. They must all be down at the Occupy Edmonton rally.

Anonymous said...

Right now Caterina is masturbating to the thought of you being hit by a car.

Madagain said...

First thing that I have read on the arena district in the last year where I wasn't disgusted half way through. (For or against) So much of it has just devolved into a pissing match.

I live in the wasteland between Edmonton and Calgary and as much as I love the Oilers and Eskimos I haven't bothered going to a game live in a long time. The last time I tried to go to a Esks game I was running a little late and couldn't find parking, by the time we got free of the traffic around the stadium and if we were willing to take a chance on a parking ticket we would have missed 1/3 of the game. So we just ended up going to a lounge for a bite to eat and to watch the sencond half. All my fault I used to drive in and park in that area all the time for games but times change and it is not friendly at all for someone from out of town to come in for games. The problem wouldn't be as bad going to Rexall but as much as I would enjoy the game I am overwhelmed with all the extra hassles attendant on coming up to a game right now. There is no decent lodging close or places where I can go before and after the game without laying out a detailed plans to run all over the city and with travel time worked in... bleh. I could look up a park and ride spot to use sure but that would be basicly a 2 hour drive, 45 mins transit, 3 hours for the game, 1 hour transit... at that point I would just want to go home and call it a year on live games instead of going out for food and a couple drinks.

If I had a area like the Columbus district where I could buy tickets, get a hotel room, park my car there and make a weekend of it with food, drink and shopping. I would not be able to resist at least a mini pack of trips a year for games.

Good job EC on highlighting the good side of a new arena without a ton of extra crap piled on.

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