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All-Star Winter Park to be anchor of Columbus' January celebration

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to unveil their plans for the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend.

The NHL goes to great lengths each year to ensure a memorable experience for the fans in its host city, but the Blue Jackets and the city of Columbus have taken it upon themselves to up the ante this year and to set a new standard for community involvement in the NHL’s mid-season showcase.

“When I think back to several years ago when we were first awarded the opportunity to host the All-Star celebration, the immediate goal we set and the direction we received was to make sure we put on the best NHL All-Star Weekend that the League has ever seen,” said Larry Hoepfner, the Blue Jackets’ Executive VP of Business Operations.

Hoepfner noted the unique advantages the city of Columbus possesses to do just that, especially noting the Arena District's close proximity to bars, restaurants, hotels, and the Greater Columbus Convention Center where NHL Fan Fair will be held.

The NHL Fan Fair has been a staple of each All-Star Game since 2009. While fans will have the opportunity to visit with the Stanley Cup and meet former NHL stars at Fan Fair, the Blue Jackets will be offering more festivities right down the street in McFerson Commons at the All-Star Winter Park, presented by Worthington Industries.

“We think we’re really the first city to go with this idea to the NHL of tying in such a grand civic plan, that has to do with tying their activities to ours,” said Linda Logan, the Executive Director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. She also mentioned the city’s growth and maturation as a hockey city since Columbus' first bid to host an All-Star Game was presented in 2000.

“We’re really thankful that the NHL had that vision to see what could be created here as well," Logan said.

The path between NHL Fan Fair and All-Star Winter Park will be lined by a unique lightscape, presented by Huntington Bank, with 176 trees illuminated by 350,000 LED lights. The All-Star Weekend will light up not just the ice surface, but the city itself.

All-Star Winter Park will feature a list of community and family activities. Fans that can’t get into Nationwide Arena for the game itself will still get a taste of the big sheet thanks to the Scotts Miracle Gro Community Rink, an NHL regulation-sized ice rink that will host public skating and some local youth games.

It’s just one of the several attractions and photo opportunities that will make the All-Star Winter Park a hub for hockey fans coming to Columbus from around the world -- those that will call Columbus their hockey home for the week.

MORE INFO: 2015 All-Star Winter Park & Schedule of Events

“It was very important to us, from the very beginning, that we gave everyone access to the festivities around us in what is really a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Hoepfner. “Whether those people have tickets to the game or to the Skills Competition or they don’t, and whether they’re hockey fans or not, we wanted to make sure that everyone had a chance to come to downtown Columbus and take part in the festivities.”

All-Star Weekend won’t be constricted to just Nationwide Blvd., as the Blue Jackets also announced the All-Star 5K Race, presented by OhioHealth, that will offer runners and walkers a competitive tour of downtown Columbus and all it has to offer, while at the same time raising money for charity.

The charitable work doesn’t end there, as the Blue Jackets, in collaboration with the National Hockey League, will undertake a Legacy Project, a lasting touch of the All-Star weekend in Columbus that will also provide a service to the community. Hoepfner announced that the project would benefit the Ronald McDonald House, and that further details will be announced as the weekend approaches.

The Blue Jackets will also kickoff the weekend with a private fundraising party at the Columbus Athenaeum, held in lieu of the annual Black Tie Blue Jackets gala, which will benefit the Blue Jackets Foundation and the fight against pediatric cancer.

It takes commitment from many people to host an event of this scale, and Hoepfner expressed gratitude to members from the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, the city of Columbus, and Franklin County.

Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman sees the All-Star Weekend not as a giant step for Columbus, but rather, as a statement.

“This is who we are now,” said Coleman, also noting that the NCAA Womens' Final Four will be coming to Columbus in 2018. “It’s a city that has become a destination city.”

“It’s a place you come to have fun, and we’re going to have fun.”

That fun will kick off when Winter Park opens on Jan. 16. There may be another unofficial launching point, revolving around the 34-foot tall Snow Slide, presented by Huntington, which will take over three lanes of Nationwide Blvd. during the week.

Mayor Coleman has volunteered to go down the slide first. Let the fun begin!

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