The Downtowner - Episode 03: The LeBron James Economy
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Basketball superstar and former Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James is heading to Los Angeles next season to play for the Lakers. The news earlier this month was a big blow to Cleveland's rabid sports fans. (In Los Angeles, there was disappoinment of a different sort on Tuesday, when hundreds of people descended upon a pizzeria in Culver City, Calif., expecting James to make an appearance. He didn't.) James led the Cavs to their 2016 NBA championship title, ending Cleveland's 52-year title drought, and he almost single-handedly carried the team into this year's NBA finals against the Golden State Warriors, who claimed victory for a second consecutive year. The Cleveland Cavaliers won't be the same without him.
Will the same hold true for Downtown Cleveland? A study last year by scholars at Harvard University suggested Downtown businesses benefitted from his star power. Another, by the American Enterprise Institute found there was a "LeBron James effect" on jobs in the restaurant industry in Cleveland as well as in Miami, where James played before returning to Cleveland in 2014.
Will all that go away without King James' Midas-like golden touch?
The concerns were enough to prompt Cleveland's mayor, Frank Jackson, to issue a statement following news of James' departure, reassuring everyone that Downtown's resurgence would continue apace without the NBA superstar.
Downtown's city councilman, Kerry McCormack, thinks Clevelanders' anxiety is missplaced. He said there are other economy-boosting assets we should be focused on, like mass transit (one of George and my favorite subjects), affordable housing, waterfront access, parks and other amenities aimed at furthering Downtown's residential boom. Where the people are, he tells us, businesses will follow.
Let's hope they are businesses that cater to residents and not just the weekend party crowd. Downtown can sometimes feel like Ft. Lauderdale during Spring Break. George said the late night scene on W. 6th St. in the Warehouse District, where we both live, can make him feel like he's caught in a re-run of the MTV reality TV series, "Jersey Shore."
"There's a lot of testosterone on W. 6th St." he said. "My running joke is that the Warehouse District turns into BroHo on weekends."
Councilman McCormack told us —his constituents—that he's on it. He said he and several other council members are in discussions with building owners and local community development groups about "a further retail approach" in the Warehouse District.
That seems to be political speak for finding ways to attract businesses to the area that aren't bars.
"We are already starting to see a shift in the amenities in Downtown Cleveland," he said. "That is what we're focused on. What is that next step in retail?"
How about a pop-up store offering deep discounts on No. 23 Cavs jerseys and LeBron James bobble head dolls?