City Council Talks Sports Stadium Tax Distribution

We’re coming up on the first anniversary of the sin tax renewal vote (May 6), and we’re sure your local elected representative is planning some fun activities for the day. Until then, though, the need for committee discussion is strong. City Council held a meeting this week to run through all of the city’s obligations at “FirstEnergy Stadium, Home of the Cleveland Browns” and to reiterate to the public that, even still, no one really knows what’s to come of the six tax renewal revenue.

The idea is that the city will see some $4.5 million annually from the sin tax. That’s based on dividing current expected revenues into thirds (for three stadiums), which is an as-yet-undetermined plan. Sin tax revenue negotiations are ongoing, with County Council holding the final vote of approval.

The verbalized intent is that sin tax revenue is meant to be shored up for capital repairs over the next 22 years of the lease with the Browns. It could also be used, via mostly vague ballot language, to cut down the city’s debt service.

Councilman Jeff Johnson asked whether there’d ever be a point where City Council could challenge the Browns ownership on the interpretation of where the money goes — or, ultimately, if any renegotiation of the lease could ever occur. The question was rhetorical, of course, as the team’s ownership has made it abundantly clear in past meetings with the city that there will be no renegotiations. Still, it’s a question that has come up time and time again since the renewal campaign began in earnest in 2013.

“The fallback is always ‘We’re obligated to pay this,’” Johnson said. “It’s just frustrating. This is an analysis about what we feel we’re obligated for. What I haven’t heard is the legal flexibility that may be discussed.”

Most council members who spoke up at the meeting shared the same sort-of-defeatist attitude about the long-term deal.

“Isn’t it incredible when you think about it if we really can’t tell citizens what this thing cost us?” Councilman Michael Polensek said. True enough, no one could nail down a number for the exact cost to the city of what was originally known as Cleveland Browns Stadium. It’s just sort of a given at this point that the city has sunk an innumerable chunk of change into it.

Polensek reiterated during the meeting that he didn’t vote for the deal with the franchise owners, reminding us of a point he made to Scene in 2012: "Here's the Browns at the time, they don't want to spend a nickel for anything or contribute to it, but then Randy Lerner sells the team for a billion dollars. With all the issues we're contending with in this town, you would think the people who have the financial wherewithal would step up to the plate. But that don't happen. That's life."

Life, as translated into the Cleveland corporate campaign base, means that taxpayers will be ponying up yet again to fulfill the city’s lopsided obligations to the Browns.

In sum, though, Monday’s meeting was presented as a chance for City Council to review all forthcoming financial obligations and transactions with the team — not merely the sin tax renewal. A revised “white paper” was published and released to council members, detailing estimates for how the city will meet its goal between now and the lease’s termination in 2028.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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