The 2015 NHL All-Star celebration opened a lot of eyes around the world and helped to put Columbus on the map as a city that’s fully capable of hosting high-visibility events.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gave the Blue Jackets and the city of Columbus “an A+” grade, solely because there isn’t anything higher than that. From the All-Star Winter Park to the Fan Fair to accommodations conveniently located within walking distance of Nationwide Arena, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive for Columbus.
And that was before anyone set foot inside the Blue Jackets’ world-class facility.
Nationwide Arena opened in 2000 when there was no Arena District, when there was no state-of-the-art ballpark next door and there was no burgeoning residential and commercial area surrounding it. In the 15 years since, the arena has become widely viewed as one of the finest in the NHL, and because of that, word has spread outside of hockey and throughout the sports world.
It’s a top-notch venue capable of hosting sporting events, seminars, conventions, meetings, you name it – and that’s what Experience Columbus set out to show a group of 50 visiting meeting and event planners from all over the United States on Feb. 11.
“The Columbus region is a great place to bring your groups,” said Larry Hoepfner, Blue Jackets executive vice president of business operations. “Location, the facility…it ranks up there with the biggest cities in the nation. The proximity we have with all of our facilities is something you can’t find anywhere else in the country.”
After the group arrived from its downtown hotel, they were taken to the ice surface where each person took a slap shot from the face-off circles. They got to see the inner workings of Nationwide Arena, from the Zamboni garage to the “star” rooms and on back to the Blue Jackets locker room, where they found a pretty neat surprise.
Each of the visiting organizations’ names were printed on one of the Blue Jackets’ locker stalls, and in the stalls was a gift from the club. They then headed to the “off limits” back hallway of the locker room, touring the players’ lounge, the medical area and the workout room.
And as Hoepfner explained, there is a reason behind the team’s commitment to top-end facilities for its players.
“We want to make sure that if we are going to have the best hockey players in the world playing here that we also have the best facilities in the world for them to use,” Hoepfner said.
The group also toured the Founders Club, a multipurpose event space on the arena’s suite level and the AAA Sky Terrace, a group event-tailored space located on the 300 level of Nationwide Arena. If the goal was to show off the facility and its versatility, consider that goal achieved.
“If we’re talking about hosting meetings, we do a lot of off-site events and someone might want to do a VIP event here,” said Ken Sien, who works with Experient, a global meeting and event planning company based in Twinsburg, Ohio, a two-hour drive from Columbus. “We like to see different facilities and experiences that we can create, whether it’s for the entire group or just the VIPs and I think we’re seeing that here.
“For me, that’s the benefit of being able to tour (Nationwide Arena) and to see everything that’s offered here. You’ve got a lot of people here that work with different organizations that could come to Columbus for a meeting, and this is important to see the facility and all that it has to offer.”