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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKIN' IN

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2009 at 1:52 PM

Could it be? Sam Miller and the Ratners of Forest City Enterprises are officially out of the inner circle?

cf85/1241635039-miller.jpgA lot has changed since Cleveland’s Uncle Sam had a tidy regular audience with ex-Mayor Mike White and former Plain Dealer publisher Alex Machaskee — back when the public coffers were an open check. White is raising alpacas, Machaskee is retired and Old Sam doesn’t have anybody to talk to anymore.

We tried to calm his nerves. I called him at HQ. He answered his own phone, as usual, then said, “I don’t want to talk about this,” when asked about his waning influence. I should have asked him first how he felt about the official announcement on Monday by Mayor Frank Jackson and County Commissioner Tim Hagan that the city will get a $20 million for the current convention center on Mall B.

Looks like Tower City is going to have to build its own damn brand, with no more help from the taxpayers, and no help from a new medical mart and convention center next door. Nobody even seems to care that Forest City was the first local company approached by Merchandise Mart Properties back more than a decade back. The company has since come out and said, “Suck it, Forest City. We’re going to kick it with Dick Jacobs over on the Mall.”

“Our site is the best site,” said Alan Krulak, a Forest City exec, as he hobnobbed in the lobby of the old convention center before county Dems voted in their new Sheriff on Saturday morning. “The [Tower City-located Greater Cleveland Partnership) committee already selected Tower City, and the commissioners are doing a disservice to the community. They’re going to find out when they start digging down in the basement over there and find a water table or something.”

They’re so bitter now that it seems they’re hoping for a giant clusterfuck — kinda like the one when Forest City handsomely flipped dirty land a few years ago to the county for a new juvenile justice center, and the county had to pay millions in clean-up costs, even though Forest City alleged the work had already been completed ("Tainted," Free Times, October 2006). Why wouldn’t the county just accept Sam’s word?

By the time MMPI president Chris Kennedy was making pre-contract rounds around town in February, explaining why Tower City was out due to the cost differential, Forest City exec David LaRue was forced to speak from the microphone with the rest of the commoners, instead of from under the podium like he was accustomed.

“If you had a plan to save $125 million for the city of Cleveland, you should have spoken up earlier,” said Kennedy. LaRue didn’t really have an answer. He just reiterated how short-sighted Kennedy was being for not seeing the perfection that is a Tower City Med Mart and Convention Center.

Jackson said Monday that the extra dough would be put in the general fund, in part to help employees working in the building to move to another location. It’s a welcome injection, no doubt, since the city just broke even for another year and was just fined nearly a million dollars by county Judge Peter Corrigan for ignoring its own civil-service guidelines for nearly two decades.

“It was a long negotiation,” says Jackson spokeswoman Andrea Taylor, “so, more than any price, what was most important was that the public interest was protected as a result of this deal.”

Unless Old Sam empties out his pockets on Old Silver’s desk, Forest City might as well take its purported public interest and suck on it until we can see it again. — Dan Harkins

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