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The Tower Press Building Debate

Tuesday, May 15, 2001 at 3:06 PM

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Cleveland City Council will consider an ordinance later today that could make or break a $10 million downtown renovation project. The provision would lease a parking lot to the developers for $1 per year. Some council members don't have a problem with the parking deal, but they might vote against it anyway. They're upset that the city-funded project will employ non-union laborers and pay sub-standard wages. 90.3's Janet Babin explains.

Janet Babin- The 93-year-old Tower Press building at 1900 Superior Avenue was originally a factory that made women’s clothing. It’s been vacant for more than a decade. City Fire Department Officials have said the building’s unsafe and should be torn down. Preservationists say it needs to be restored.

Charge Development Company wants to convert the space into an artists community, with retail space and 80 live-work apartments for artists. Last year, City Council set aside $2 million in grants and low interest loans to help the project along. Inside the 102,000 square foot building, developer Dave Perkowski shows off some of the structure’s highlights.

Dave Perkowski- Lets go in this lobby area - this is an historic lobby area. Underneath all this dust is actually a tile, and all this tile will be restored. This brick here will all be restored, some significant detail here about halfway up on the brick.

JB- The first floor lobby will include 8,000 feet of commercial space, including art galleries and a wine bar. Most factories built in the 1910’s were square ugly boxes, but the HR Black company created a beautiful workplace that employees could be proud of. As a result, Perkowski says it’s likely Tower Press will qualify for landmark status, not only because of the design itself, but also because of the intention of the design.

DP- When (the Tower Press building) was designed in 1910, it was designed to be a real nice work environment for the workers - and there was all factory workers - and at that time, that was really cutting edge. That a lot of the big industry they didn’t really focus on that, and they were really focused on it. So that’s really the significance of the building, and then the design.

JB- Organized labor considers it ironic that a building being praised and maybe honored for its commitment to employees will be renovated by workers who won’t be making what’s known as prevailing wage. John Ryan is Executive Secretary of the Cleveland AFL - CIO.

John Ryan- The issue is worker standards - when you do not have prevailing wage situations, you have people literally coming in from out of state and living in $30 a night hotels and we don’t want to see people in poverty doing work that usually is a middle class work.

JB- Some City Council members might vote against the parking ordinance just to stop the project. Under the parking agreement, Perkowski would lease land behind the building for a dollar per year, and turn it into about 230 parking spaces, most of them for tenants. Mike O’Malley of Ward 16 says he can’t vote in favor of nearly free parking for a city funded project that will pay workers sub-par wages.

Mike O’Malley- I think it’s important that the people working out there earn a fair wage. I think that’s my job as a councilman is to make sure people earn a fair wage when they’re receiving - a company such as this is receiving several million dollars in taxpayer funds - it’s a grant, it’s not even a loan, it’s an outright gift to these developers.

JB- O’Malley’s promised to amend the parking legislation to require that the Perkowski pay prevailing wages. Councilman Joe Cimperman of Ward 13 has been working with the project’s players and has managed to get guarantees that some unions will be part of the Tower Press renovation, but he says it would cost an additional $1.5 million for the entire renovation to be completed by union workers, and that would be a deal-breaker.

Joe Cimperman- I asked if there was more money in the budget, and I was told no. I asked for a meeting with Lorie Soggs and the Mayor, Lorie Soggs is the head of the building trades council, and the Mayor declined to meet with Soggs, so I kind of feel like everybody wants this project to happen, but nobody wants to take the hits that will ensue.

JB- Mayor White’s administration blames City Council for not insisting on prevailing wages in the original contracts with the developer. Executive Assistant Ken Siliman says that type of requirement has to be agreed on before a developer starts a project.

Ken Siliman- This administration submitted to city council an ordinance, and council passed that ordinance without any comment. The developer is proceeding with the work, and that he is not legally required to pay the State of Ohio prevailing wage rates.

JB- While Siliman says City Council is responsible for the omission, a memo from the Law Department states that prevailing wages on any economic development transaction should be analyzed “in consultation with the Department of Economic Development,” making both sides of city hall responsible for the gaffe.

Councilman Cimperman says he’ll meet again with union leaders this morning, to try to work out a compromise all city council members can approve.

Perkowski had said that artists would be living in Tower Press by the first quarter of 2002, but labor issues and the parking ordinance have delayed construction, perhaps forever. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 WCPN.

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