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Ohio Blue Jackets’ Journey to Stanley Cup Begins in $150M Columbus Arena

Sat October 14, 2000 - Midwest Edition
Mike Kelly

Building contractors are never anxious to see ice on their building sites.

The firms of Turner/Barton Malow Sports, Miles-McClennan Construction along with the city of Columbus, OH, however, not only wanted ice, but wanted it to be thick enough to skate on this season.

That is just what happened on Sept. 20 when the Columbus Blue Jackets opened their inaugural season in the National Hockey League against the Detroit Red Wings. The Nationwide Arena opened on Sept. 9 and 10, with a concert by country stars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.

In May of 1998, ground was broken for the construction of the 800,000-sq.-ft. (74,322 sq m) Nationwide Arena which includes a 685,000-sq.-ft. (63,639 sq m) arena which seats 18,500 for hockey, 19,500 for basketball and 20,000 for concerts.

The facility is located in the heart of downtown Columbus and is the anchor of what developers are calling a “unique urban village” featuring housing, retail, office space, a park and a public square.

In May of 1997, after voters rejected a sales tax proposal, which would have financed the arena and other downtown development, Nationwide announced it would privately develop an arena for the citizens of Columbus. One year later the company, along with Dispatch Printing Company, broke ground for the $150-million facility.

NBBJ of Columbus, and Heinlein and Schrock Architecture Inc. of Kansas City, MO, designed the arena.

The new facility incorporates liberal use of glass to provide an open, accessible atmosphere, including a 70-ft. (21 m), glass enclosed atrium.

“One of the design goals of the project, since this will be part of a district, was to have to blend in while being a focal point at the same time,” said Don Montgomery, project manager of Nationwide. “Most arenas tend to be internally focused and we made an effort to have this one be externally focused.

“We wanted people, as they walked around the arena, to be able to maintain an orientation as to where they were in the district. That is why we have numerous windows on each of the concourses,” Montgomery said.

He added, “That also allows people walking in the district to see the inside of the facility, including the public ice rink with bleachers which seats 700. The attached rink is the only one of its kind in the NHL. Other pro teams practice at rinks in nearby suburbs.”

An emerging Arena District surrounds the Nationwide Arena. The district is created as a dense “urban village,” designed for mixed development. Business, entertainment and restaurants, as well as residential and park space will set the stage for a pedestrian-friendly environment.

The Nationwide Arena and District are within walking distance to other downtown attractions including the Columbus Convention Center, the North Market, The Short North (arts and entertainment), and Victorian Village (an historical neighborhood).

“Anytime you are building an arena you’re faced with many challenges including working things out logistically since you’re working with a lot of equipment, in a limited space, with a deadline that doesn’t have any play in it.

“For example we had two very large Mantooth 400 cranes in the bowl to assemble the roof while, at the same time, there were smaller hydraulic cranes in the same area constructing the precast to support the seats. So it was a very tricky procedure,” Montgomery explained.

According to Montgomery, one of the biggest obstacles the crew had, however, was trying to get the brick work and the miscellaneous metal in place to support the structure. Also, the workers had to have the arena done in a time frame that they could get the building enclosed before last winter’s weather hit.

To get that mission accomplished Nationwide hired two masonry subcontractors, Chet Baker and Company and Brian Mouser Inc., to work in unison. The pair started in spring of 1999, and finished in June. Anderson Aluminum did the glasswork.

Attached to the arena is a four-story, 60,000-sq.-ft. (5,574 sq m) office building, with some office space views to the arena interior.

“You name the piece of construction equipment and we’ve probably used it,” Montgomery said. “With three weeks left to competition we told everybody to remove all of the hydra lifts because they were running into each other and damaging the finished work.”

The floor of the facility is about 25 in. (64 cm) thick and is made of 12 in. (30.5 cm) of sand, a heating system, 4 in. (10.2 cm) of insulation, plastic vapor barrier and 8 in. (20 cm) of reinforced concrete with coolant pipe.

The iron pipe for the coolant is 1.25 in. (3.2 cm) in diameter and carries brine coolant. It runs about 9 mi. (14.5 km) and has 2,400 welds. The top layer of ice is 1.25 in. (3.2 cm) thick. The concrete slab is 85 ft. (26 m) wide by 200 ft. (61 m) long. About 400 cu. yds. (306 cu m) or 40 truck loads of concrete was used for the arena floor, which is enough to pave a 2-mi. (3.2 km) sidewalk.

Other features of the arena are:

• Two 80-ft. (24 m) towers anchor the stage end of the arena. The towers house four platforms for luxury seating and are topped with large instant replay video boards.

• An asymmetrical bowl, with telescopic seating in the stage end, allows for a variety of reconfiguration for concerts and other performances.

• Uniquely designed seating provides superior sight lines throughout, and 76 luxury suites and 22 loge boxes provide additional amenities.

• Installation Services Inc. of San Antonio, TX, installed each of the arena’s seats. They were constructed of black molded plastic shell and covered with custom fabric.

• The red brick arena exterior allows the structure to blend with the existing turn-of-the-century architecture of its neighbors. A 135-ft. (41 m) tall light tower will add illumination to the downtown sky.

• A 560-space parking garage is attached to the area, with an additional 10,000 spaces within a 10-minute walk.

On building the area, Dimon R. McFerson, chairman of Nationwide, said, “Building the Nationwide Arena for the residents of Columbus was the opportunity of a lifetime. This area’s dramatic transformation from blight and abandonment to this stunning arena and the surrounding Arena District, fulfills Nationwide’s commitment to revitalize downtown. We are honored to deliver on this promise for the citizens of Columbus and Ohio,” McFerson said.

“The Nationwide Arena and Arena District truly turbo-charges growth and development in our downtown,” said Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman. “The Arena and the Arena District are a new dimension for people who want to live, work and play in an exciting, unique urban setting.”

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