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If the Browns go to Brook Park what does Cleveland do with the lakefront stadium?

Browns Stadium in the background and the Amtrak parking lot in the foreground.
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Browns Stadium sits on lakefront land between Downtown Cleveland and Lake Erie.

As the owners of the Cleveland Browns continue to make noise about a possible move to a new stadium in Brook Park, rumors are swirling about what could happen to the current city-owned stadium — and how much those possible new plans could cost taxpayers.

New renderings of a $2.4 billion dome stadium plan in a neighboring suburb leaked Wednesday, raising questions about how city planners would handle the gaping hole left by the Browns in Mayor Justin Bibb’s decades-long, sweeping lakefront plan.

So far, the city of Cleveland has remained tight-lipped about its ongoing negotiations to keep the team Downtown.

Bibb has doubled down on his determination to see the new waterfront plan to fruition and has pushed legislation through council to make it a reality, including a Downtown tax increment finance district that is expected to generate between $3.5 billion to $7.5 billion in new revenue over the next 42 years to fund the project.

Most recently, the administration asked Cleveland City Council for more funds to cover thedesign phase of the plan, which currently includes a pedestrian land bridge connecting Downtown to Cleveland Browns Stadium, as well as a beach and other amenities nearby. Council voted to nearly double the budget for drawings.

City council members were not happy with the ask, questioning why the design firm ran so far over budget.

The overspending occurred shortly after reports came out in February that the team had purchased 176 acres of land near the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

On Thursday, a city spokesperson appeared to confirm that the news — in part — drove the city to imagine a lakefront without the stadium.

"The expanded scope for the consultant isn’t solely focused on the stadium and its future plans," a city spokesperson told Ideastream Thursday. "The additional costs were to ensure the best, most comprehensive planning that would provide us with all options to consider — some with the stadium and some without. We must consider all possibilities in order to make our lakefront vision a reality."

How much would it cost to demolish the Browns stadium?

This is not the first time Cleveland has been threatened with an out-of-city move by the Browns. In 1995, then-owner Art Modell announced he was moving the team to Baltimore for the 1996 football season. Al Lerner brought the team back to Cleveland in 1999.

Part of the relocation deal to return included the construction of a new stadium on the site of the Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Demco Inc. won a $2.9 million bid to demolish the stadium and began teardown in the fall of 1996.

That same demolition bid would cost nearly $5.8 million today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' inflation calculator.

But demolition experts say there are many other factors that would make the teardown more costly in 2024.

“Pricing was very stable and predictable before the pandemic. Since the pandemic, everything has gone up,” said Albert Robinson, a project manager for Cleveland Demolition, a residential and commercial demolition company.

Prices have risen at least 20% since the pandemic due to material and labor costs, as well as unpredictability in the industry, Robinson said. He estimates a 2 to 3 percent hike in costs every 90 days.

“A lot of people stopped working during the pandemic, so a lot of the workforce [was gone] and they didn’t come back to work, so labor has gone up,” he said.

How have other cities repurposed stadiums?

If the Browns' owners, billionaires Jimmy and Dee Haslam, proceed with their Brook Park plans, demolition may not be the only option for the Downtown stadium.

Other cities have repurposed sports arenas. The Great American Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee, a 60% scale replica of the Egyptian pyramids that now houses the world’s largest Bass Pro Shop, was once a 20,000-seat arena for the University of Memphis basketball team.

In Houston, Texas, the Summit Arena built for the Rockets was ultimately purchased by televangelist Joel Osteen, who spent $95 million to convert the space into a 16,000-seat worship center.

Closer to home, Columbus City Council is looking to potentially redevelop Cooper Stadium, which has sat abandoned since the Columbus Clippers’ move to Huntington Park, into mixed residential and retail space.

Bibb’s own waterfront plans include mixed residential and retail space on both lake and riverfronts.

What’s next?

The current lease on the city-owned Cleveland Browns Stadium is set to expire in 2028.

The city has kept developments close to its chest, repeatedly telling media that negotiations are “ongoing” while providing few additional details.

"Negotiations are ongoing and continue to be positive, productive discussions," a city spokesperson told Ideastream Thursday. "We meet regularly with Haslam Sports Group – including, most recently, this week – and look forward to continued collaborative conversations."

But in the meantime, the relocation rumors appear to be picking up steam. Signal Cleveland reported that representatives from the Browns recently met with state lawmakers to pitch the Brook Park stadium.

At City Hall, Council Member Brian Kazy is attempting to block the move by enforcing a state law that restricts professional sports teams that play in taxpayer-supported facilities and receive financial assistance from cities or the state.

The 1996 law, named for former Browns owner Art Modell after he moved the team to Baltimore, states that the team must go through a legal process with the city in order to leave.

It also remains unclear who will foot the bill for developments at either location. The Haslams want taxpayers to cover half of the estimated $2.4 billion Brook Park build or a $1 billion Downtown renovation if they choose to stay, according to cleveland.com.

Bibb has been previously outspoken about protecting taxpayer dollars from being spent on stadium costs, stating at his 2023 State of the City address that he was “no longer to risk general new fund dollars for maintenance of a privately-owned football franchise.”

Public response to the possible move has been mixed.

While a vocal group of fans dislike the idea of the move, some residents say it may free up space for the city to build something new.

“If we rebuild this stadium on the same site, nothing will happen there on a beautiful day like today,” said one public commenter at Monday’s Cleveland City Council meeting. “We've been hoodwinked, decade after decade, when it comes to these stadiums and for this beautiful building to be empty the majority of the time… I know plan A is to keep it on the lakefront but think about plan B. It may not be so bad.”

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