Despite Opposition and Confusion, City Council Moves Q Deal Along to Next Stage, Will Surely Pass

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click to enlarge Cleveland City Council on a neighborhood tour in June. - Sam Allard / Scene
Sam Allard / Scene
Cleveland City Council on a neighborhood tour in June.
After a marathon six-hour City Council hearing, Anthony Brancatelli, chairman of council's Development, Planning and Sustainability committee, approved the Quicken Loans Arena renovation deal legislation, moving it along to council's finance committee. The move came as a slight surprise, given the number and magnitude of unanswered questions by meeting's end and earlier assurances by Councilman Matt Zone, dulcet as ever, that "nobody [wanted] this fast-tracked."

Finance is where most legislation goes before final approval on the city council floor. The finance committee usually meets Monday afternoons. Brancatelli said that the scheduling for this piece of legislation is now at the discretion of the Finance chair — Council President Kevin Kelley — which means it could be discussed as early as this coming Monday.

If approved then and there, the Q deal legislation could be shipped to the floor and passed Monday evening. And if that happens, the Cavaliers will have achieved precisely what they intended when they first announced the Q deal in November: Cut through the region's legislative bodies "like a knife through butter," (as synthesized to Scene by Councilman Mike Polensek last month).

Despite vocal and persuasive dissidence, voiced last week by City Councilmen Mike Polensek, Jeff Johnson, and Zack Reed (and today by the same parties plus Brian Cummins, Kevin Conwell and TJ Dow), the opposition doesn't appear to have the majority required to halt or even slow the progression of this legislation. It looks like it will be passed without any significant changes. In fact, the only change from what the Cavaliers' initially proposed was an amendment by county councilman Dale Miller, who wanted to extend the time that certain public funds will sit in a dedicated facility reserve.

As has reported, our public "negotiators" — Armond Budish, big-shot attorney Fred Nance and Financial Adviser Tim "Conflict of Interest" Offtermatt — really didn't "negotiate" anything at all. The one benefit to the public in this arrangement is a seven-year lease extension, which's Karen Farkas has reported was on the table all along. Nance, at last week's hearing, said that seven years "was the best [the negotiating team] could do."

But it's good enough for City Council. Council President Kevin Kelley has argued that for his colleagues, the responsible thing to do is to consider the cost of "doing nothing." He asked presenters this morning from Greater Cleveland Congregations and the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus if they disagreed with the premise that the Q, as a facility, generates revenue for the city.

"If we agree that the Q is an asset and generates income," Kelley asked, "How would Cleveland be better off if we didn't move forward on this?"

GCC's Pastor Richard Gibson basically denied the framework of Kelley's inquiry, arguing that the question should not be one of resource scarcity but of resource allocation. When Kelley followed up by asking about Dan Gilbert's hiring record, what has become a key argument for the pro-deal side, Gibson again declined to answer directly. Gilbert's hiring record was "not why [GCC was there]," Gibson said.

Gibson acknowledged, in his presentation, that the city council votes on the issue had likely been internally tallied and "marshaled" already. (That certainly appears to be the case.) His "biggest disappointment," he said, was the utter lack of creativity displayed by these legislators.

"Is this the highest and best use of public funds?" He asked.

Certainly not for some. Mike Polensek reiterated his outrage over the deal, citing statistics about the decline of Cleveland's population and infrastructure in the era of massive sports subsidies, beginning with the Gateway project that was greenlit in 1990: Cleveland's population has plummeted, child poverty has soared, median home income has dropped right along with the quality of city services, four out of five police district headquarters are in need of repair...

"I could go on and on," Polensek said. "This ain't working... You guys are trying to sell snowmobiles in the desert."

Cummins and Johnson both drilled into financial questions, re-hashing much of the deliberation that occurred at the County level. Cummins, for his part, was alarmed at the rudimentary nature of the financial paperwork provided.

"Quite frankly, we're used to seeing an Excel spreadsheet," he said. Cummins also stated for the record that the Cavs pay no taxes on the facility they inhabit, an annual cost in the neighborhood of $9 million per year that the city does not collect. He invited the audience to consider that fact when they looked at the financials of the deal in a comprehensive way.

Johnson staked his philosophical territory — not that it was ever up for debate — and suggested a "pivot" in the way Cleveland tries to do economic development by investing in the neighborhoods instead of this one downtown asset.

"We've already paid significantly," Johnson said. "Significantly."

Reed, after a meandering speech about Civil Rights and the Old Testament book of Esther, managed to make a few key points. He questioned the strength of the Cavs' admissions tax projections, especially because they wouldn't go into effect until 2024.

"[The Cavs] can't win a game when [LeBron's] not on the floor," Reed said, suggesting that arena sellouts weren't a guarantee after James retires.

Reed also began to probe the dire predictions of the Cavaliers if the upgrade is not approved. The Cavs — who have been known to lie on this issue, recall — have suggested that the Q's annual events would drop from 200 to 160, resulting in a significant decline in ticket sales and subsequent admissions tax payments.

That seemed like an awfully sharp dip to Reed, who verified that the Cavaliers, Monsters and Gladiators would still play all their home games at the Q. (Without the upgrade, would the Q lose out on every single one of the concerts and special events that it has managed to secure in recent years, making it, as is often cited, the 13th most trafficked venue in the United States and the 33rd in the world?) Almost definitely not.

Eventually, Reed asked Komoroski point blank if he would just talk to Dan Gilbert and try to get something concrete for the neighborhoods, transparently disavowing the competency of the Jackson administration. Reed's argument was that the promises from the teams have all been bullshit, and presumably still are — he cited the "28,000 permanent jobs, $15 million per year for CMSD and housing for the homeless!" promoted to enlist votes for the Gateway project — and asserted that Cleveland residents don't see the trickle-down effects of the stadium subsidies, despite the lovely graphs and charts. Reed asked if maybe Gilbert could just give toss some money Cleveland's way for youth extracurricular programming or something.

In another memorable moment, Polensek asked Komoroski and Nance if they had any idea what Clevelanders go through every day.

"I'm getting the impression that you have no idea," Polensek said.

Much of council's conversation — and speechifying — about the deal hinged on naming what it was really all about. Remarks by councilpeople often included the following phrase: "The real issue is..." And the "real issue," for those opposing the deal, was public investment, the idea of using public funds, not required in the lease, that would otherwise go toward any number of more urgent causes across the city.

"All this other stuff is smoke," Jeff Johnson said.

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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