Friday, March 21, 2008

New convention center: Another gift for Sam Miller?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 21, 2008 at 5:37 AM

Sam%20Miller.jpg
Sam Miller, seen here laughing about the time he bit off the head of a really cute bunny. It's a funny story. Ask him to tell it sometime.
For the past few days, we’ve been treated to a series of glowing Plain Dealer articles about the city’s new convention center and Medical Mart plans. County commissioners haven’t exactly fashioned a good deal. The project is expected to cost about $400 million – almost all of which will be paid by you, dear reader. And since the convention business has been in a tailspin for more than a decade, this is something akin to investing $400 million in subprime mortgages… Plus, the Chicago company that will operate the joint is only kicking in $20 million. And since commissioners agreed to pay it $5-$6 million a year to run the place, it’s essentially getting a free $400 million building without risking any of its own money. We’re pretty sure this is not how they teach you to construct a deal at Harvard Business School. Even funnier – if you consider losing all that money funny – is that one of the principal sites being looked at is the bank of the Cuyahoga River next to Tower City, which would require placing the center on stilts, shoring up the river bank, and possibly getting rid of the mall’s movie theaters.But as commissioners are fond of saying, “If you can ever make a bad deal more expensive, let’s go for it!” What the PD doesn’t telling you is why commissioners would even consider the riverfront when there’s a perfectly good (and stable) plot of land on Lakeside Avenue, where the current center stands. The only conceivable explanation is Sam Miller. Miller, co-chairman of Forest City and sugar daddy to the county Democratic Party, has been trying to get government to bail out his dying Tower City for years. Keep in mind, the mall was built with millions of dollars in public subsidies. Now that it’s hemorrhaging — even Panera can’t survive there — Miller’s growing desperate. Back in 2003 and 2005, he tried to get the convention center built there. Then he tried to convince the county to move its headquarters to the old Higbee building, which is attached to the mall. No dice. But since they decided to stiff Miller on their ill-fated headquarters project, the smart money says Jimmy Dimora and friends now feel obligated to throw Sammy a bone. And if you, dear reader, are required to pick up the cost of that very expensive bone, so be it. --Lisa Rab

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