Monday, the day of the Cleveland City Council vote, Gilbert was willing to give several millions more. He offered a complicated deal, one negotiated by Council President Kevin Kelley, that ensures Cleveland will continue to get an equal share of the money from admission taxes on events at The Q. Roughly half the money now goes to debt payments on The Q, and the remaining half goes to the city’s general fund. Gilbert promised that if the tax money going to debt service plan is greater than the tax money going to the general fund, he will write a check to the city for the difference. Gilbert also pledged to renovate the basketball courts at the city’s 22 recreation centers and at the city’s high schools
Why weren’t these things on the table months ago? I didn’t expect Gilbert to have offered them. That’s not how successful businessmen negotiate. But our elected officials should have been fighting for more.
A vocal three-month campaign led by the Greater Cleveland Congregations, Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus and a handful of Cleveland City Council members, forced the changes.
They did so by refocusing the debate from one about the arena to one about inner-city neighborhoods. (This debate has already spilled into this year’s council and mayoral races.) Pastor Jawanza Colvin of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, a strategy leader for Greater Cleveland Congregations, drove the message home from his pulpit, at council meetings and during rallies, including one in front of Quicken Loans’ headquarters in Detroit.
It’s easy to see why the message got traction. The downtown neighborhood around the Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field is unquestionably thriving. But the same comeback hasn’t been realized in many inner-city neighborhoods
The Cavs also announced at the same news conference that it would redirect the charitable donations raised at Cavs’ playoff watch parties at The Q (about $1 million) to Cleveland’s Habitat for Humanity, which for several years has been focused on renovating homes in some of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods.
The plan to upgrade the 22-year-old arena will cost $282 million over 17 years (including the cost of interest and a reserve fund for repairs city’s sports facilities.) The county and the Cavs agreed to split the construction and financing costs. The county is kicking in $16 million from a reserve fund related to construction of the convention center and convention hotel. Cleveland is committing a portion of admissions taxes on tickets from The Q, an estimated $8 million a year for 11 years, toward debt service. Destination Cleveland, the region’s tourism bureau, agreed (after some serious arm twisting) to redirect to the project’s financing about $44 million it gets from taxes on hotel stays. (Jackson was the key player in keeping all the players talking around this point.)
Critics still reject the final deal as falling far short of their demands, complaining that the last-hour incentives are minuscule compared to the size of the public commitment. They also see the sweeteners as a cynical ploy to win a 12-vote supermajority of 17-member council by seducing member Brian Cummins, who backed the new deal Monday night after weeks of pontificating against the proposal. But they should see the offer as a partial victory.
Council would most likely have passed the deal without the new commitments from Gilbert. But Kelley said the guarantee to match general fund dollars with financing dollars was an important “assurance” to have regardless of politics.
While this does little to appease the critics, any additional cash to the general fund from Gilbert could mean something if managed properly — a few more police officers or more road repairs. And improvements to the city’s recreation centers are desperately needed. Their poor condition is alarming. These are tangible results on top of keeping the arena — an asset the public is unfortunately stuck owning — a bit more competitive.