Cuyahoga County Council yesterday held a marathon meeting on a resolution asking voters to extend a tax on alcohol and cigarettes on the May ballot this year. The money would fund repairs to Cleveland’s three major sports stadiums. As ideastream’s Nick Castele reports, the teams made their first pitch to council.
The sin tax has raised $350 million since voters passed it in 1990. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have used that money to pay off the debt they incurred building new stadiums for the Cavaliers, Indians and Browns.
The tax expires in 2015, and now the teams are hoping voters will extend it for 20 more years.
Joe Roman with the Greater Cleveland Partnership made the opening case for the teams.
“The good news is we don’t have teams threatening to leave," Roman said. "We have teams that want to be competitive in publicly owned facilities. These teams have been investing in the maintenance of these facilities.”
The Cavs say they’ve put $114 million of their own money into Quicken Loans Arena, and the Indians say they’ve spent $63 million in repairs to Progressive Field.
Tim Offtermatt chairs the board of Gateway Development Corporation, which owns the two teams’ facilities. He says the county's lease agreement with the teams put the public the hook for major capital repairs that cost $500,000 or more.
“We’re in each of these buildings every day," Offtermatt said. "So far, it’s been our determination that a capital repair that meets the definition of major capital repair has not come across our desk. We do expect it, however.”
In fact, the teams gave council lists of repairs they’re planning in the next 10 years. Both the Indians and the Cavs want improved heating and cooling systems, new sound systems and new scoreboards, among other things.
Combined they’re asking for up to $135 million.
Longtime independent journalist Roldo Bartimole was one of several people to speak against the tax. He has long criticized civic leaders for funneling hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to stadiums he says the teams could well afford on their own. He’s also taken leaders to task for exempting those stadiums from property taxes.
“Why would you want to place on the ballot another heavy tax burden for who knows what real reasons these three team owners will use the money for?" Bartimole said. "You are now taking a silly step.”
The bill’s sponsor, Councilman Pernel Jones said he’s heard from some critics, too. He said they’ve asked him what happened to the many jobs that were promised when the stadiums were built with public money in the 1990s.
“One reasons for opposition that I’ve heard throughout the community has been…the jobs just did not materialize," Jones said.
The Indians say they employ nearly 1000 people in the county, and the teams say they’ve spurred downtown development – but Joe Roman acknowledged some of the promised development hasn’t started happening until recent years.
After three hours, Council President C. Ellen Connally brought the meeting to an end.
But this issue isn’t settled yet. Council meets again on Thursday to hear more testimony, and will meet again next week before deciding whether to put the issue to voters on the May ballot.