Cleveland Guardians Reach Lease Extension Deal With City, County

Progressive Field, home to the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Guardians, in Downtown Cleveland
The soon-to-be-renamed Cleveland Guardians have reached a 15-year lease extension deal with Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, with the option for an additional 10-year extension after that. [Tim Harrison / Ideastream Public Media]

Updated: 12:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021

Cleveland’s Major League Baseball club has reached a deal with Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to extend the team’s lease for another 15 years, with the possibility of a 10-year renewal after that.

The agreement will cost the city and county $17 million annually, according to a news release from the team and local governments. The state will chip in $2 million a year, and the team will pay $10 million annually.

All told, the deal will cost about $435 million over the 15-year life of the lease.

That money will fund capital repairs, property taxes and “fan-friendly improvements” at Progressive Field, according to the release. Those projects include a redesigned upper deck concourse, changes to the Terrace Club and left field and an expanded “social space” near the dugout.

“Our goal here is to give our fans, our community and our players the best ballpark experience possible,” team owner Paul Dolan said at a Thursday news conference. “This is incredibly important for us to remain competitive and be a world-class entertainment destination to serve our community.”

The current lease was set to expire in 2023. This new arrangement replaces the last two years of that deal and will last until 2036. The new lease will coincide with the team’s name change, as the Indians become the Guardians at the end of the 2021 season.

As the lease neared expiration, local leaders chose the less expensive route of renovating the 27-year-old stadium rather than building a new one, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said at the news conference.

“To their credit, the Indians never threatened to sell or move,” Budish said. “But we understand the realities of the business of professional sports, and we couldn’t take the risk of losing the team.”

Cuyahoga County is paying its share of the deal with money from the sin tax on alcohol and cigarettes, the hotel bed tax and the county general fund, Budish said.

Cleveland will draw on revenue from the Gateway parking garage, admission taxes and a reserve fund established as part of the deal to renovate Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Mayor Frank Jackson said at the news conference.

“This is an investment in Cleveland’s future,” Jackson said, one that will offer “certainty that investors would need when they’re looking at Cleveland to invest and create jobs.” 

Gov. Mike DeWine, who also spoke at the news conference, said Budish and Jackson had turned to him for state help in financing the deal. DeWine said he asked if the lease could be extended beyond 15 years.

He acknowledged that his office considered whether pitching in on the deal would set a precedent for state funding of future professional sports facilities. DeWine said he hoped to talk with the state legislature to draw up a “blueprint” for handling future funding requests.

“Frankly, we did not have the time to do that,” he said. “It was important to get this lease dealt with. I was called at a critical time and we needed to continue to move.”

The agreement will head next to Cleveland City Council and Cuyahoga County Council for approval.

Mayoral candidate and Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley, a past supporter of the region’s stadium deals, was not at the Thursday news conference. He issued a statement after the event, pledging to review the deal.

“Any legislation tied to the lease extension will go through the council committee process for full review,” Kelley said. “Council will have a full agenda when we return to regular sessions in September, including American Rescue Act expenditures, and our main focus will be strengthening neighborhoods most affected by COVID.”

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