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‘It’s a ghost town’: How Arena District plans to stay afloat

April 9, 2020

Article originally published in The Athletic by Tom Reed 

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

In an effort to support local businesses that are being threatened by the devastating effects of the coronavirus, The Athletic is publishing an ongoing series of stories to highlight our treasured communities. #supportlocal

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The red-brick boulevard that runs along Nationwide Arena is eerily quiet on a warm April afternoon.

No whir of machinery by arena workers applying signage to mark the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Blue Jackets. No chatter on the patio of Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, where patrons gather for lunch or pregame drinks. No hum of anticipation around Huntington Park, which was scheduled to host the Clippers’ season opener Thursday.

March and April are typically the busiest and most profitable months. The Arnold Classic brings 200,000-plus visitors to Columbus. The Blue Jackets usually sell out late-season games and have standing-room-only crowds in the playoffs.

“These two months are usually what push us through the summer during the slow months,” said Mike Darr, who owns the R-Bar along with his wife, Natalie.

On March 17, Nationwide Realty Investors Ltd. (NRI) president Brian Ellis sent a letter to bar and restaurant owners informing them that they would not be responsible for paying rent during the pandemic.

“We want to make sure they survive, that they get through this and come out the other side,” Ellis said. “(This virus) is all over the country and all over the world, but we’re doing what we can to help here.”

The Arena District was unique in the sporting world when it started taking shape in the late 1990s. It’s a neighborhood of bars and restaurants and other business, intermixed with residences and anchored by an 18,000-seat arena, all owned and operated by a single developer. (NRI is a subsidiary of Nationwide Insurance.)

More than 1,000 people live in the Arena District today, and many of the city’s prominent companies have moved their corporate offices there.

“The abatement of rents is the difference between making it or going out of business,” Joe Thomas, owner of Whistle & Keg. said. “They stepped up early and did the right thing. We are forever grateful for that.”

“We’re in this for the long term. We’re not going to be shortsighted. However long this takes, it would still fall in the category of being shortsighted if we weren’t trying to preserve those small businesses that support our residents, our visitors, our tenants, our office workers …” Said Ellis.

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