Columbus’ Arena District will be a magnet of activity Wednesday when three major sports events draw up to 40,000 fans — and possibly some serious traffic snarls — to three major venues simultaneously.
Columbus police have been planning for weeks for an onslaught of sports fans into the Arena District, the first time that all three stadiums will be in use at the same time for soccer, hockey and baseball.
Added to the expected convergence of sports fans into the area will be a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA), which allows visitors to carry alcoholic beverages in marked cups, outdoors, throughout much of the district’s 300,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment venues.
“We are going to be seeing a large concentration of people,” said Columbus Police Cmdr. Smith Weir, who oversees the Downtown area. “We’re encouraging people to enjoy yourself and have a nice time — but to build in some extra time, be mindful of traffic and be patient.”
Things will kick off at Huntington Park, which will have a minor league baseball game at 6:15 p.m. between the Columbus Clippers and Louisville Bats. Up to 5,000 fans are expected at the game on a day when sunny weather is predicted.
Those attending “are encouraged to get their tickets and parking in advance to save time!” according to a Tweet from the Clippers.
At Nationwide Arena, the St. Louis Blues play the Blue Jackets at 7 p.m. in an NHL pre-season game. The arena’s capacity is more than 18,000, but attendance is expected to be about 12,000, Columbus police have been told.
And the newly opened Lower.com Field, which holds more than 20,000 people, will have its first international game at 8 p.m. Wednesday as the Crew, who have won their last three home games, face off against Cruz Azul of Mexico in the Campeones Cup.
Bars and restaurants in the district typically open hours before the start of games.
Officials have said that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic might deter some from attending crowded indoor venues. The city of Columbus in early September enacted a mask mandate that requires both employees and customers to wear masks at grocery stores, restaurants, barber shops, movie theaters and any other publicly accessible indoor area.
The DORA is activated three hours before the start of every Blue Jackets, Clippers and Crew home game and lasts until midnight, according to the Arena District website.
Read more: Arena District DORA has limitations
The events are a local respite from pandemic recovery and a welcomed diversion, local officials say.
“How exciting is this?” said Don DePerro, president and CEO of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. “These are the fun things that take us away from the drudgery of the pandemic.”
He envisions making the trifecta of events a staple in the community where fans can partake in more than one venue on the same evening.
“What a great event, first for the city of Columbus, but more importantly for Downtown.”
Lisa Defendiefer, of the Capital Crossroads special improvement district, said the Downtown has been “incredibly quiet.”
“It’s great to know that there are so many great things to do. We want to welcome people Downtown again.”
While there have been other “soft” roll-outs of the DORA, this will be the “official grand opening” and the first test of resources and rules, Weir said.
At similar areas elsewhere, streets are closed to create plaza-like drinking areas. That will not happen in the Arena District, Weir said.
“So many of the parking garages are accessible off Nationwide Boulevard,” Weir said. Closing it “would really throw a wrinkle in the plans … to really snarl traffic.”
In addition to special duty officers that venues pay for, the city has planned to have near-full staffing Wednesday, including two additional police cruisers, bike patrol officers and manned observation towers.
COTA is not planning additional buses to or from the area, but it says that the events’ start times coincide with its peak operations.
“We’ll have all of our transit lines available,” spokesman Jeff Pullin said. “We’ll be fully staffed.”
Columbus Police Lt. Marc Dopp said there is plenty of parking but added, “You may just have to walk a little.”
Some venues have given ticket holders specific instructions on the best parking locations depending on which direction they’re driving in from.
Dopp encourages everyone to come with a game plan and an optimistic outlook.
“Come down with a positive attitude, add 15 to 20 minutes to your trip, know that you may have to sit in some traffic, be courteous to others and hope that we win all three games.”