Covering the bases in economic development

Covering the bases in economic development

 

The man who patrolled right field for the Columbus Capitals in the 1860s, one of the city’s first amateur baseball teams, was tall and powerful and looked as if he could drive the ball a mile. But he was a light hitter who regularly batted last in the Caps’ order.

The man who patrolled right field for the Columbus Capitals in the 1860s, one of the city’s first amateur baseball teams, was tall and powerful1 and looked as if he could drive the ball a mile. But he was a light hitter who regularly batted last in the Caps’ order.2

But P.W. Huntington’s struggles at the plate didn’t prevent him from falling in love with the game or, nearly 150 years later, keep Huntington Bank from forging a relationship with the local team. This bond has proved a boon to both the bank and P.W. Huntington’s hometown.

In 2006, Huntington Bank was approached by Franklin County, Ohio, owners of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. The International League team was planning to vacate its old west side park for a new home in the downtown Arena District. Huntington struck a 23-year naming rights deal with the county3 and a mutually beneficial partnership was born.

“The community really felt that it needed to have a new minor league baseball stadium,” said Huntington CEO Tom Hoaglin. “The one that was in use was very old and very tired and not conveniently located. We felt that it was Huntington’s turn to step up in a project like this. We were downtown. The stadium was to be downtown. We were the hometown bank, the only remaining hometown bank of size. It just kind of fit.”4

“Putting the ballpark downtown was good for economic development, good for the community,” said Jim Kunk, president of Huntington’s Central Ohio Region. “It became an asset for the entire community.”

The naming-rights deal also helped ownership keep tickets affordable.

“The county wanted to create a private/public partnership to help keep ticket prices low,” Kunk said. Today, it’s still possible to get a reserved seat to see the Clippers for as little as $10. For families and young adults, “it’s a great, cheap night out.”

Since the opening of Huntington Park — so named, Kunk said, because of the way it suggests family and community — the Clippers have twice led all U.S.-based minor-league baseball teams in attendance. And fans have shared their appreciation with the bank.5

“I think local employees really felt great about Huntington Park,” Hoaglin said. “It was about being a hometown bank, doing a hometown initiative.”6

The Columbus Clippers story is not unique for Huntington. The bank’s brand is also prominent at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, home of the National Football League’s Colts7; at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan, home to Michigan State football8; and inside Ohio Stadium and all across the campus of the Ohio State University, where besides sponsoring athletics, Huntington pledged $100 million in loans and investments to help develop Ohio State’s University District area.9

About 145 miles north of Columbus, however, another partnership between the bank and a local team has been especially effective at elevating Huntington’s brand and driving economic development in an area hungry for it.

The Huntington Center in downtown Toledo is home to the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye, year-round concerts and family events.

“It is really critical to have a vibrant downtown.” Sharon Speyer, president of Huntington’s Northwest Ohio Region, said. “Our downtown got hit pretty hard with the downturn and before.”

Long before arena construction began in 2007, Huntington was approached by the hockey team’s management and the local Visitors and Convention Bureau. “We thought this would be a good deal for the downtown,” Speyer said.

The vision was that with foot traffic to and from the arena, “restaurants and bars would pop up in the area,” Speyer said. That has happened, though she notes, “There is still a lot of work to be done.”10

Since the first puck drop at Huntington Center in 2009, the Walleye have exceeded league average attendance by more than 40 percent, and the team shattered its single-season attendance record in 2014-15.11

Though there is no record of P.W. Huntington ever having laced up hockey skates, he’d likely be heartened to hear how the Huntington Center has been received in Toledo.

“It’s unusual to not have people say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for stepping up during the downturn,’” Speyer said. “And it was a bold move. It made a statement that this market was important, that economic growth in this community was important.”12

“It’s unusual to not have people say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for stepping up during the downturn,’” Speyer said. “And it was a bold move. It made a statement that this market was important, that economic growth in this community was important.”13

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The Columbus Clippers have called Huntington Park home since 2006. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jshecket

 

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Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is home to the National Football League’s Colts. Credit: Josh Hallett