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Lakefront plans cost more than planned. Cleveland City Council puts off ask for more funds

Cleveland's vision for the Downtown lakefront includes viewing vistas, a beach and more access to the city's waterways.
City of Cleveland
Cleveland's vision for the Downtown lakefront includes viewing vistas, a beach and more access to the city's waterways.

Cleveland City Council is not happy with Mayor Justin Bibb's administration after a contractor in charge of crafting Bibb’s lakefront master plan apparently sent the city a bill for more than 50% more than the approved half-million dollar budget.

The city's Chief Financial Officer Ahmed Abonamah came before City Council Monday seeking approval to release funds to pay an architecture firm $260,000 more than what council had already approved, spurring criticism from members about how the city ended up in this position.

Council President Blaine Griffin called the situation "unacceptable" and raised the alarms on how this could set a precedent for future contracts.

"So every vendor can lowball us, and they come back and say, 'Well, we need more money to continue to work,'" said Ward 10's Anthony Hairston. "That's what it sounds like to me."

Council must approve contracts and expenditures before the city disperses funds. When Griffin asked if the contractor could sue if council rejects the legislation, Abonamah confirmed that under state law, if a firm goes over a contracted amount, they risk not being paid for the overage.

The city has not paid any amount over the budgeted $500,000 and will not do so without council approval, according to Abonamah.

"There was no intentional effort to subvert council’s authority, but we ended up in a situation where the presumed budget of the project was not adequate," he said. "We only learned that after we started getting invoices."

Unlike other scraped master plans of decades past, Bibb has doubled down on his determination to see the new waterfront plan through. Council recently approved a tax increment finance district Downtown to fund the mayor’s sweeping, decades-long waterfront plan, which includes a pedestrian land bridge, retail and residential spaces, a beach, viewing vistas and more. That TIF district is expected to generate between $3.5 billion to $7.5 billion in new revenue over the next 42 years.

The current plans include Brown's Stadium as a major part of the waterfront. Recently, news broke that the Browns owners purchased 176 acres near Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in Brook Park, sparking speculation that the team could relocate there.

Council is delaying action on paying for the over-budgeted work for further discussion.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.