County Council Passes Progressive Field Deal 9-1, Public Spigot Continues to Spew Money for Pro Teams

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This stone alone has cost taxpayers $3 million. - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
This stone alone has cost taxpayers $3 million.

Cuyahoga County Council voted 9-1 Tuesday to authorize spending its portion of a $435 million lease agreement with the Cleveland Guardians. The "deal" will keep pro baseball in Cleveland until 2036—with the possibility of two additional five-year extensions down the road—and will include more than $200 million in maintenance and upgrades at the facility on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

The county's portion includes roughly $9 million per year, harvested from the hotel bed tax (~$3 million), the Sin Tax (~$2.5 million) and the general fund (~$2.5 million) with an additional $300,000 per year coming from sources yet to be determined or publicized. According to the terms announced by the team and its public partners before hearings began, the county will also contribute $11.6 million in upfront one-time payments.

Under the deal's terms, the city of Cleveland would contribute $8 million per year, and the state of Ohio would chip in $2 million per year, for the 15-year duration of the lease. The deal will not be finalized until it is passed by Cleveland City Council in the near future.   

This whole charade is merely the latest in an ongoing series of massive public subsidies to Cleveland's pro teams. These subsidies, voters are told, are merely a "reality" of life in the poorest big city in the country. A system of hostage economics under which team owners enrich themselves at the expense of the public is just the system we live under! Nothing to be done! The teams have all the power in this system, hold all the leverage, because elected officials are so terrified of the teams' departure that they'll agree to anything.

As such, no "negotiations" of any kind occurred on the current deal. The Guardians are getting precisely what they demanded, with only minimal, and largely symbolic, concessions. Tuesday, for example, councilwoman Nan Baker thanked the team for reducing ticket prices for family four-packs on Sundays. (A family of four can now attend a Sunday matinee for $80, complete with $40 in pre-loaded value for concessions at the stadium.) This generosity by the team in support of the region's working and middle class is the sort of community benefit that $285 million in public subsidy buys! 

The choreography and rhetoric of the county council hearings this year were nearly identical to 2017, when the county authorized its portion of a the Q Deal.

Just as at that time, council members claimed that the deal was an imperfect solution to a massive problem. Until this "broken system" is improved via national interventions, said Councilman Dale Miller, paying a ransom every few years to keep the facilities in tip-top shape, thereby avoiding a larger price tag for a whole new stadium, is a price the county should be willing to pay to keep a vital piece of the city's historical and cultural fabric intact. 

The deal, said Councilwoman Sunny Simon, who also said she supported it "reluctantly," is "vital to a community of sports fanatics." Like others, she celebrated the vitality of downtown Cleveland since the arrival of the basketball and baseball arenas.

Others, like County Executive Armond Budish himself, didn't feel the need to express remorse or reluctance of any kind. He played his part and proclaimed that the deal was necessary to keep the team in Northeast Ohio and that it was the public's responsibility to maintain a world-class facility because it was a public asset.

"The improvements to the field are necessary to keep the team here," Budish read from a prepared statement to council. "We're fortunate here because the Dolan family wants to keep the team in Cleveland, but we still have to provide a competitive lease. And that's what we've done."

Only Councilman Michael Gallagher voted against the deal, saying he believed the county simply could not afford the ongoing contributions. "There comes a time when you have to make a stand," he said. 

It was a corporate welfare variety show. And the only thing different about this year's performance was the absence of an organized opposition. During the Q Deal, dozens of representatives from Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC) attended the meetings in matching shirts and delivered impassioned public comments calling for matching investments in the community.

This time around, no opposition has been organized. Instead, the public comments relevant to the deal were delivered by restaurateur Dante Boccuzzi and pro-deal community members celebrating the economic impact and all-around saintliness of the franchise. 

Another public comment kicked off the proceedings, though. It came from a grandma living in the Warehouse District, who said she now faces homelessness after the Snavely Group purchased her building in September and informed her that her lease would not be renewed. She was given no reason, but hinted that it may be because she pays her rent with the assistance of a third party. And while she did not specify that she received subsidies via the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the thrust of her comments was support for Source of Income protections.

Though Armond Budish announced legislation last month to prevent landlords from discriminating against tenants due to source of income, no one on County Council responded to the distressed commenter. Nor did they advise her of the county's forthcoming legislation or volunteer to have someone reach out to Snavely on her behalf. No, they promptly got on with the meeting and voted to hand over millions of public dollars to a billionaire.

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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