For 20 years Columbus tried to land themselves a pro hockey team, and again and again,
the public sector refused to kick in. So finally a consortium of private moneys was put
together to build their new hockey arena, and the NHL rewarded Columbus with an
expansion team, and play began in 2000. And what a splendid new hockey arena it is!
Getting to the venue
The arena is situated on the north side of downtown Columbus, and signage off of I-670 or
I-71 will direct you right to the Arena District. From I-71 the Spring St exit is your best bet.
Parking around the arena is abundant, with the lot directly across from Arena Square
running $15, but most lots in any direction run $5 or $7.
Outside the venue
Nationwide Arena is the anchor building for what has already become the "Arena District".
We walked about 4 blocks from our parking lot to the arena, and every building we passed
was either open for business or in the process of being gutted and refurbished. The main
street, Nationwide Blvd, has being repaved in brick, and the main entrance to the arena
spills out into Arena Square, which serves as a gathering place surrounded by restaurants
and entertainment in a "Times Square" type setting. Across the street is a parking ramp,
emblazoned with a huge "Arena District" marquee, a massive Daktronics video board and a
series of changeable ad panels. On our second visit, we counted at least a dozen
restaurants and bistros just steps from the front door, all great places to visit before and
after the game.
The management took tours of many NHL venues to cull great ideas for their project - and
from our travels we can detect similarities to other NHL venues - a light tower and beacon
is reminiscent of Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center; the center ice scoreboard is
designed similar to the one at Air Canada Centre; a stack of "party suites" four high in two
corners looks alot like the suites at Philips Arena; and their grand entrance pavilion with its
sweeping views of downtown Columbus is reminiscent of our own HSBC Arena.
This facility almost has the feel of the Conseco Fieldhouse which we had just seen - at the
top of the bowl there are huge glass walls allowing light into the building, and the entire
building has a red brick and stone veneer giving the place a nostalgic feel to it. Once
inside, you enter a huge pavilion with glass walls facing outside and escalators to take you
to club or upper levels. A team store is right inside the pavilion. All the concourses are
bathed in soft lighting and some corridors in blue mood lighting to accentuate the "blue"
theme in Blue Jackets. The concessions are organized by themed geography, with such
names as "sunset", "uptown", "west end" etc. The corridors are also given corporate
nicknames, for example "CoreComm Avenue" on the upper deck. At the main pavilion one
can find the main food venue with a huge food court, several bars, all grouped into an area
called "Bud Light Terrace".
This arena is laid out much like our own in Buffalo, with a club level wrapping around 75% of
the 200 level, and premium restaurants up there laid out much like our 200 level Harbour
Club. Interestingly, they also have 2 "super premium" areas - one side of the 200 level
sidelines has mini-boxes, with huge captains chairs and their own TV monitors, and there
are also high tables - 4 to a table that are sold by the table for viewing the action - these
tables also come with TV monitors. In the first few rows around the penalty boxes is another
exclusive premium area, with access to a private club called the "ticketmaster.com lounge"
and an upscale buffet.
The seating bowl
This bowl is beautiful -and when you walk around the 100 level concourse you can actually
see the action from the concourse itself. But the coolest thing is the latest in LED Surround
Vision Technology. This dot matrix board is bolted on the facade of the upper deck and
forms a continuous circle around the inside of the arena. Just like Paul Brown Stadium, this
board can display advertisments with neat graphics, stats, and also great special effects in
with an IMAX surround type effect. ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIC!!!!!!
Add delicacies such as lobster rolls, quesadillas, panini sandwiches and grilled tuna steak
to the traditional fare. Besides the ticketmaster lounge, there is another premium lounge
area called the PIzzuti lounge, located on the club level. A bistro style restaurant called
Black and Blue is available for general ticket holders, and is accessible from the main
concourse. This facility is also open on non game days and sports a great view of the
practice rink., which brings us to the...
The Blue Jackets have a practice rink built right into the arena - not next door..not adjacent
- right in the arena!!! It is called the CoreComm Ice Haus, and you can see it at one endzone
from the 100 concourse by looking through the glass. There is bench seating for about 1000
patrons, and there is also a restaurant overlooking the playing surface. The practices are
open to the public and the building is also used by the public and youth teams, sometimes
even when the Blue Jackets game is in progress.
The team has sold almost 13,000 season tickets, and that is incredible considering that the
city has almost no hockey tradition (save an ECHL championship by the former Columbus
Chill, coached by our own Brian McCutcheon!), and also there is a PSL requirement which
doesn't go to the team but rather to defray the cost of construction. We think that the fan
support is remarkable... and this city has gone nuts for their new NHL team... what a great
addition to the NHL family!
No past teams - no tradition.. so they hang banners of some "founding" corporate
sponsors. Definite deduction in our book. The titles will come, the championships will come,
and someday this team will bid farewell to its icons and retire their numbers.. Until then,
LEAVE THE RAFTERS EMPTY.
Hat tricks, assists, penalties
Hat trick...The digital LED 360 degree surround dot matrix board is very cool. The set up
here in Columbus actually goes about 80% of the way around, nonetheless, they use it to
the max and it really dresses up the seating bowl.
Hat trick... to the management of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Too many people to list here,
but special props to Joel Siegman, Fan Services Coordinator. We hooked up with Joel on
both of our visits, and he was very gracious to us. On our return visit, Joel lined up VIP
seats, gifts of personalized jerseys, media appearances, and participation in in-game
entertainment. A big THANK YOU to the number one NHL organization in our hearts!
Penalty - to Andrew, who with Peter was invited to shoot t-shirts into the crowd with one of
those big cannons. He sailed the last shirt right onto the ice, almost hitting 'Jackets goalie
Marc Denis. OOPS! Fortunately the puck hadn't dropped yet. Andrew will report back to
Columbus to serve the penalty in person.
Assist - A large "Fans #1" banner hangs at the top of the escalator in the main atrium. THIS
is an appropriate place for this sort of banner, and we are glad the Blue Jackets resisted
the temptation to hang this in the seating bowl.
Columbus did it right... a privately built arena with a dynamic cityscape built around it.
Attractions both at the arena and throughout the adjoining neighborhood to keep people
coming on event days and at other times. A wonderful building abounding in fan amenities,
food selections, and other entertainment. The first in the NHL auxiliary practice rink built
right in the arena, available for public use as well. It all works here - the team, the building,
the Arena District. Clearly this is one of the premiere, if not THE best, setup in the NHL.
Cities looking to build a sports venue and companion private development to create
vibrant urban synergies need look no farther than Columbus to see how it should be done.
Congratulations to you, Columbus... you have set the bar for your peers to emulate! We
hope to come visit again and again.
Fan Support 7.5
Concourses/fan comfort 8
Bonus: Practice rink in building 2; Arena District 1, USRT Red Carpet treatment 4
at Columbus Blue