Business Is Booing

The Browns can’t win, but they sure can sell.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
While the Browns' on-field product may violate certain consumer-protection statutes, the off-field product continues to fly off shelves. The NFL reports that, from April through November, Browns merchandise sales on were up 67 percent from the previous season -- an increase that ranks in the top five among NFL teams. This, of course, begs the question: What the hell?

Marketable personalities are a primary influence on sales, and on that count, the Browns are most heinously snakebit. Consider:

· William Green, the onetime running back of the future, is now a first-chair confessor in rehab, historically a lackluster position for jersey sales.

· The franchise quarterback was benched before the season. Then reinstated. Then injured. Then . . .

· Kevin Johnson, the team's biggest star and a Pro Bowl clubhouse cancer, was abruptly released. (Then promptly coveted by half the NFL.)

· The top draft pick was a center. Jeff Faine's own parents have not bought his jersey.

· The jersey of Courtney Brown, who for three years seemed about two blown tackles away from a career in grocery-bagging, can be found at finer Goodwill stores.

So with zero marketable players, exactly whose stuff are Browns fans buying? The NFL doesn't track specific merchandise, but Dan Masonson is quick to provide reasons for the surge. "It's an exciting young team . . . and coach," he offers, his voice trailing off in mid-sentence. Yeah, that must be it.

Peter B.'s plight
Progressive Insurance chairman Peter Lewis loves to tell his fellow Clevelanders exactly how they're screwing up the region. "I believe that Cleveland is in the declining position it's in in large measure because it denigrates its screwballs -- people like me," he said at a recent City Club speech. But considering his company's current effort to stiff public schools, he might want to throw fewer rocks from his glass mansion.

Progressive owns two buildings in Highland Heights. Together, the county auditor says they're worth $10.4 million. Yet at a hearing earlier this month, the company asked for a $2.7 million reduction in its property valuation. If approved, the tax break could cost the Highland Heights/Mayfield City School District more than $100,000.

"A lot of companies do this," says Progressive spokesman Todd Morgano. "They take a look at the property they own and look to revalue it. This is a standard procedure for us."

Blowing Thomas
You know Thomas Mulready. That is, the media and Thomas Mulready think you know Thomas Mulready and want to know way more about him.

For those not in the know, Mulready is the man behind Cool Cleveland, an internet newsletter consisting of press releases and items pilfered from other papers.

In another era, he would be described as a man with too much time on his hands. But we're in the midst of The Quiet Crisis. For salvation, civic leaders are turning to the overhyped book The Rise of the Creative Class. They're hoping that a few struggling artists can turn Cleveland into the next Seattle.

In such troubling times, Thomas Mulready has gone from electronic-'zine producer to . . . A Force of Nature!

At least that was the theme of a recent Plain Dealer story, which compared Mulready to -- no lie -- a black hole. A black hole of coolness, that is.

It appears the paper's hyper-sphincterized copy editors neglected to uphold the glory of monosyllabic prose that day. For in the hands of arts reporter Carolyn Jack, the piece turned into an absolute gushfest. Among the choice excerpts:

· "[Mulready] is so concentrated, a mass of compacted energy so intense, that nothing can escape the pull of his gravity. Not even light."

· "Mulready is the point at which all things Cleveland seem to come together -- arts, business, technology, politics, family, the uneven past, the troubling present and the shapeable future."

· " . . . he's a walking nexus whose relentless force of personality is connecting people across the city, drawing them in and moving them forward at the high speed of his impatience to save Cleveland from economic and cultural decline."

· "The space-time continuum quivers for a moment as the unswerving Mulready looks the tiniest bit sheepish."

Later, Mulready's wife is compared to the Dalai Lama. For real.

Yet somehow, Mulready found room to be unsatisfied. In his newsletter last week, he carped that piece could "have included the more salient points of [Cool Cleveland's] mission, civic accomplishments, challenges, and business development potential." Unfortunately, that would have required noting that 'zines have the commercial upside of a Kool-Aid stand.

But stay tuned for next week's installment, in which The Plain Dealer reveals that The Guy Who Plays The Sax Outside Cavs Games is actually pioneering a new form of jazz, and that hipsters from Paris to Prada are frothing with envy. Or perhaps they're just disoriented, due to the quivering space-time continuum.

Kook County
Cuyahoga County is pitching a no-hitter against redemptionists, the anti-government types who, for reasons too weird to explain, think they can use worthless documents called sight drafts to pay for everything from mortgages to fancy cars. Assistant County Prosecutor Dan Kasaris has wrested plea bargains or convictions from 30 or so defendants since 1999.

Next on the docket is the Dark Lord Sauron of redemption, Minnesotan Roger Elvick. An old-school extremist with ties to the Aryan Nation, he's the reputed mastermind of redemption, though we hesitate to use the words "mastermind" and "redemption" in the same sentence. He allegedly provided local redemptionists with his own sight drafts after theirs were recognized as bogus by a Lakewood car dealership in 2001. Elvick is also alleged to have participated in "paper terrorism," whereby the nutbags made false claims of unpaid debts against the dealership's owner, Lakewood detectives, and county judges in attempt to drive them into bankruptcy.

Earlier this month, Elvick was extradited from Minnesota. He faces charges of corruption and intimidation, among others.

Elvick's arraignment was surprisingly uneventful, says Kasaris, considering that redemptionists typically object to everything, including their own identity; shout oblique questions, such as "Do you have a claim against me?"; and try to fire the judge. But Elvick not only behaved himself, he was overheard mentioning a plea bargain. The trial is tentatively scheduled for early February.

Tales from the dork side
Perhaps FirstEnergy is right. According to trusted internet news sites, the company wasn't the cause of the August blackout after all. Among the culprits:

" Aliens: reports that a Toledo resident saw a UFO the day before. Other power outages have coincided with UFO sightings, most notably the New York blackout of 1965. And anyone who's seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind knows that aliens routinely carry some sort of giant Clapper aboard their ships.

· Sabotage: notes that, last year, an Army soldier was arrested in Jacksonville, Fla., after allegedly planting explosives under power lines. The website wonders whether the military turned out the lights, black-ops style, to test its High Frequency Active Auroral Research Project.

· A malicious nerd: quotes South Carolina psychic Elizabeth Baron: "This is the work of a 15-year-old boy with the mind of a genius . . . The individual will be traced down and will be found out, but it is doubtful that any public information will be given out about this young man because it would start copycat destruction in our country."

Charlie's utopia
Charles Scaravelli, who owns a portion of the Scranton Peninsula, the 70-acre cape across the river from Tower City, dreams of a city within a city on the peninsula, a utopia of housing, shopping, and parks. But he lacks, among other things, the ability to write a coherent sentence.

In his continuing quest to present himself as a man of singular vision, Scaravelli recently delivered a manifesto outlining his intentions for the peninsula, or as he calls it, "Scaravelli Islands." It seems to target people who are prone to join cults. Quoth the epistle: "The Scaravelli Islands affects all five senses and the sixth, which can't be seen, but it's a feeling you get inside, it affects you, your subconscious, it affects who you are, how you act and who you will become and its beautiful . . . No one can stop the best . . . cream rises . . ."

Politeness and the family's title to the land, meanwhile, prevent city leaders from openly mocking Scaravelli, who appears to have self-manufactured his business card. "I love his passion, and the guy is 100 percent heart," Councilman Joe Cimperman says. "I'm just not sure where his plan is going."

Says City Planning Director Chris Ronayne: "They do own a small portion, and we're willing to first talk to them about that portion, and then in the grander scheme, how Scranton Peninsula ought to lay out, for which they have some good ideas."

Punch asked the big dreamer why he is the man for the job, when 20 years of Scaravelli ownership has prompted so little development on the peninsula. "It wasn't the right time," he says. "The right time is now."

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