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Lack of energy downtown contributed to Ohio brain drain
In the 1980s only a few thousand people lived in downtown Columbus. Many residents still worked in the inner city, but most of them headed straight back to the suburbs at the end of the day. Meanwhile, thousands of graduates of nearby Ohio State University, unable to find jobs in Columbus, were leaving the state to pursue careers. A new downtown mall built in 1989 failed to revitalize the city and was almost vacant by 2007.
Partnership led to development of new downtown district
An innovative partnership was struck between the City of Columbus, the State of Ohio and Columbus-based Fortune 100 company Nationwide Insurance. Nationwide agreed to pay 90 per cent of the $150 million cost of building a new arena, and ownership of the local newspaper financed the rest. The City of Columbus and the Franklin County Convention Center Authority agreed to spend $16 million to acquire land and pay for infrastructure improvements to support the development. In return for its commitment to build the arena, Nationwide was designated as master developer of an area next to the arena site. This new Arena District would be exempt from property taxes. The foregone tax income to the City was offset by a ticket tax on arena events, with revenue providing funding to the public school system.
Arena District sparked additional $1 billion in private sector development
In an area once dominated by a closed state penitentiary, surface parking lots and empty warehouses, Nationwide Arena opened its doors in 2000 as the new home of the NHL Blue Jackets and the heart of Columbus’ new Arena District. The District includes a multiplex theatre, an indoor/outdoor concert venue restaurants, shops and 1 million square feet of new office space. The arena project sparked an additional $350 million development that created a new downtown core, including hundreds of residential units. Nearby Ohio State University became a partner in an integrated area plan with its own project, the Gateway Center, which includes the world’s biggest college bookstore and its own residential development. With a total of $1 billion in new investment to date and more development in the works, the Arena District has helped Columbus build a reputation that is helping the city attract and retain the skilled, educated people the city needs to compete in the global economy.