Cuyahoga County Should Not, Under Any Circumstances, Pour Millions More Dollars into the Freaking Global Center

ERIK DROST/FLICKRCC
Erik Drost/FlickrCC

Maybe it's the imminent prospect of Roe V. Wade being overturned. Justice Samuel Alito's leaked Supreme Court draft opinion Monday night read as  both a cruel culmination and a rabid ramping up of a decades-long Republican campaign to drag the country back to the enforced moral norms of White America's 1950s, in defiance of popular opinion.  (It's needless to note that Ohio's legislators stand drooling in the wings, aching to pass their so-called "trigger" law that will outlaw abortion statewide the moment the Supreme Court's opinion is official.) 

Maybe it's the apparent election-day malfunctioning of Cuyahoga County's voting system. Voters awoke Tuesday to news that polling locations were unable to properly scan and record ballot stub numbers. And while the Board of Elections claims that scanners at no time were unable to read submitted ballots, voters were nevertheless turned away across the county early in the day, resulting in widespread confusion and mistrust. 

Maybe it's the fact that few will bother to vote anyway,  an outcome that's at least partly another cruel culmination of a Republican campaign: the contemptuous redistricting process in Ohio.  A handful of Republicans, up to and including the Governor of the state, refused to honor the will of voters by producing fair legislative maps, jeopardizing elections in the process and simultaneously reducing the electorate to apathy and disgust, all while smirking in the knowledge that no consequences would be visited upon them.
Maybe it's the fact that the incumbent congresswoman in Ohio's 11th District, Shontel Brown, has refused to vacate her seat as the chair of the County Democratic Party. She has steadfastly defended her dual roles, even as local media and voters have called foul. The conflict of interest Brown claims does not exist is nevertheless dramatized by the lackluster (nonexistent?) get out the vote efforts in Ohio's supposed Democratic stronghold and the precipitous decline in Democratic requests for mail-in ballots. Brown either didn't have sufficient time to do her job as party chair or was content to let numbers sag, knowing that low turnout benefits the incumbent.

Maybe it's the fact that Brown's campaign has been generously bankrolled not only by the Israel lobby but also by the fossil fuel industry, and elected leaders in her party, the one that theoretically cares about impending climate disaster, couldn't be bothered to utter a peep in protest, or to throw their weight behind her challenger. Maybe it's the fact that a 50-year-old climate activist named Wynn Bruce literally set himself on fire on the steps of the U.S. Capitol last week in an act of protest, and it barely registered as news. 

Maybe it's the fact that the Democratic favorite in the Ohio Senate race, Tim Ryan, has made jingoistic attacks on China the centerpiece of his primary campaign.

Maybe it's more generally the devolution of politics into partisan sporting event, one in which the final score is all that matters, where cheating therefore goes unpunished and ends are understood to justify rotten means; one in which those who fight hardest for human rights and dignity are often regarded as disloyal because they're  perceived as not fighting hard enough for the team. Maybe it's the fact that people of privilege overwhelmingly accept and promote this narrative.

For any of these reasons, cynicism is surely among the dominant emotions on primary day in Cleveland, Ohio, at least for those of us who haven't been pummeled into ignorance by decades of disenfranchisement. One of the conclusions to draw from all of the above is that as human beings and political constituents, we have extremely limited influence upon the decisions of our so-called leaders in our so-called democratic society.  We can "make our voices heard," sure, especially now that public comment is permitted before our local legislature. We can even organize local or statewide campaigns to change unjust policies. But the effects are often muted. In some cases, as in the constitutional amendment on gerrymandering, the victory of the people is ignored outright.

Nothing so luridly illustrates the disdain for the electorate in Cuyahoga County right now than a plan to devote $46 million to upgrades at the Global Center for Health Innovation.  It is impossible to read news of this plan without crawling out of one's skin. 

The $46 million ask — $5 million from ARPA funds (surreal), $5 million from the Convention Facilities Development Corporation, which oversees the Global Center, and $34 million in Cuyahoga County bonds, the principal and interest on which will be taxpayers' bill to foot for ages — will supposedly modernize the Global Center and make it more attractive for bigger conventions. The scope of work includes adding a couple of escalators, expanding the junior ballroom and jazzing up the outdoor space.

If that sounds like small potatoes to you, you're not alone. Unfortunately, devoting millions more dollars to a facility universally regarded as a boondoggle is in keeping with the governing style of County Executive Armond Budish, whose ever-blossoming garden of contempt for his constituents now includes nominating a repugnant has-been to an important board post shortly after he'd been booted by Mayor Justin Bibb. Budish is trying madly to repair what will be his fetid legacy, but all he knows how to do is fast track costly physical monuments that impoverish the tax base for decades. So we're being saddled with more of the same.

The Global Center upgrades were skewered by local architect William Eberhard in the editorial pages of Crain's recently. His commentary is worth quoting at length.

"The proposed scope, ambiguous as it is — even if a justified need, which again has not been established — and proposed costs are far out of line," he wrote. "The very building exists because Cuyahoga County previously failed spectacularly to establish a legitimate need for the proposed project, which is still bleeding taxpayers.

"This project's infamous history tells us that the original failure to thoroughly vet an alleged and unsupported program of needs and the county's failure to cogently forecast and manage costs means that we need to require vetting in a far more serious and responsible manner of such expenditures of our money on the ideas from those around the campfire this time. Like its previous iterations, this latest idea appears to be an unjustified, unneeded and wasteful project at an absurd cost, adding further insult and injury to Cleveland's greatest mistake on the lake to date."

In other words, it's not clear that the Global Center even needs these upgrades, and even if it did, the proposed costs are outrageous. 

That perspective is widely held. The Global Center is properly viewed as an embarrassment, and it cannot and should not be resuscitated with massive injections of public money. This is the dictionary definition of throwing good money after bad.   

With the exception — perhaps the exclusive exception — of County Executive candidate Chris Ronayne, (whom Republican challenger Lee Weingart is keen to note has received more than $10,000 in campaign contributions from employees and PACs tied to the Global Center-affiliated Project Management Consultants and their parent company, Thompson Hine), voters do not want our tax dollars used in this frivolous way. The return on investment, just as with the Medical Mart itself, is hazy and speculative, pure imagination. Furthermore, spending these public funds is the height of imprudence when one considers that cascading global pandemics may permanently alter the contours of the convention and tourism industry on which the region has already gambled away so much of its fortunes. 

But the news Friday, diligently reported by cleveland.com's Kaitlin Durbin, is that these upgrades must be greenlit as soon as possible — selecting a contractor for the design and construction must happen by June, according to the honest brokers at Project Management Consultants — so that the planned 18 months of renovation can begin by 2023 and completed in time for the August, 2024 gathering of the American Society of Association Executives, a conference repeatedly referred to as the "Super Bowl" of convention events to beguile us into thinking that $46 million for escalators and a more versatile ballroom makes financial sense. 

Does anyone still wonder why Cuyahoga County is in the pits? Does anyone still wonder why the quality of life metrics, particularly for residents of color, are routinely the worst or among the worst in the nation? Does anyone wonder why Cleveland is still so desperately and intractably poor?

Forty-six million dollars!  For escalators at the Global Center! 

Beyond the obvious injudiciousness — and Durbin reports glumly that the decision appears to have been made, that "everything is on pace to ensure [the fast-tracking of the project] happens" —  what's enraging is that they are pushing this through in the face of nearly universal public opposition. In fact, they are pushing it through as hastily as possible to ensure that the universal public opposition doesn't have a change to get organized, reducing the population once again to apathy and disgust. Recall that we are supposed to be living in a democratic society,  but voters in this county are utterly powerless to restrict the profligacy of the Budish administration. 

As a thought experiment, consider the recent efforts of the local grassroots group Participatory Budgeting Cleveland (PB Cle). The group's demand is straightforward. They want the city of Cleveland to set aside $30.8 million, (a symbolic figure that corresponds to the percentage of residents in poverty), and allow the public to determine how it's spent. Participatory budgeting increases engagement among residents and gives them a direct say in how the government spends a portion of its tax dollars — a bit of actual democracy, in other words. This demand is nevertheless viewed as radical and impossible to implement. City Council ties itself in knots objecting to what they see as a logistical nightmare that could result in redundant programs, inefficient spending and internecine ward disputes. 

Some of those concerns might be valid if they weren't voiced in such bad faith. But the hand-wringing over participatory budgeting looks especially cartoonish in the light of the fast-tracked Global Center enhancements, in which far more than $30.8 million will be set on fire as fast and as stupidly as possible to prevent public input. Its flames can be counted upon to burn for years in the faces of poor, hungry, weary residents, who will continue to struggle against this insanity and cry out for basic representation. 


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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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