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Cleveland Mayor Asks Council to OK $2 Million a Year for 15 Years to Fund Browns Stadium Project

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 12:24 AM

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A rendering of one of two proposed new scoreboards, released by the Browns.

The city of Cleveland has worked out a deal with the Browns to put public money toward a $120 million stadium upgrade project that includes new scoreboards. ideastream’s Nick Castele reports now the plan heads to city council for approval.

Under the proposed agreement, the city will pay $2 million a year to the Browns for 15 years to reimburse the team for installing two new scoreboards, new escalators and other upgrades.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson says the money will come out of the city’s general fund. And he says the deal won’t lead to cuts in city services, but he acknowledges that money could have been spent on other things.

“Now could we have hired another police officer as a result of this? Yes,” Jackson said at a Tuesday news conference. “Could we have swept a street? Yes. We could have done it, because it’s general fund money. But what I’m saying to you is that the level of service we provide today will not be in jeopardy.”

The city also will give the Browns more say over how to spend $12 million on stadium repairs several years from now. That’s about half of what’s sitting in a stadium repair fund that comes from a sales tax on alcohol and cigarettes.

Browns CEO Joe Banner says the mayor drove a hard bargain. He says got an agreement that has the city paying less than its agreement leasing the stadium to the team might have demanded.

“The contribution that the city’s making, $2 million a year, I think the city would describe as moderately below what its lease obligations are,” Banner said. “I think we would describe as significantly below.”

City council will still have to approve the deal, and some members oppose it. Councilman Jeff Johnson says he’s asked the city law department to prove that Cleveland’s lease agreement with the Browns requires the city to pay for major stadium upgrades.

“That’s going to be the primary debate for me, is to figure out whether we have a legal obligation to do this,” Johnson said. “And second, of course, is the question, the allocation of public dollars, the majority of which are going toward a scoreboard. And I just think that sends the wrong signal, I think it’s wrong.”

Johnson says Cleveland has too many other needs to justify paying for a scoreboard.

But Councilman Zack Reed is for it. He points out the city owns the stadium. He says the city should put up money for improvements now rather than wait for stadium to deteriorate.

“Those things don’t get better because we wait,” Reed said. “What we should be doing is we should craft a deal right now that ensures that we get something now for a facility that we own right now.”

And an often vocal critic of the Browns’ lease agreement with Cleveland, Councilman Mike Polensek, left the news conference optimistic. He says he believes Jackson negotiated a good deal for the city. 

“I got the impression obviously that the Browns weren’t happy,” Polensek said. “And they’re not happy. But they know that based on public opinion, and based on the emails and phone calls we’re getting, people don’t want to hear about it in light of all the pressing needs in this city. I think also, too, I think clearly the mayor was driving that home.”

Mayor Jackson is hoping council will pass the measure as soon as next Monday night.

Councilman Brian Cummins says he’s hoping to delay the decision for at least a week, if not into next year.

“It’s not enough time for me, absolutely not,” Cummins said. “I don’t think it’s enough time for the city and council to truly know if we’re getting a good deal.”

If it is approved, the payments would come on top of others in Cleveland’s lease agreement with the Browns, such as millions of dollars from the city each year in debt service for the stadium’s construction.

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