It was a pleasure to see the Plain Dealer front this week. The PD for the first time in my memory asked a question that needed to be asked: “If Progressive Field needs improvements, who will pay the bill?” It was played prominently on Page one.
If there is any other board that needs PD probing besides the Port Authority it is the Gateway Economic Development Corp., the entity Cuyahoga County set up to own and operate the baseball field and the basketball arena (Progressive Field and the Quicken Arena).
It too has operated in vacuum, unwatched and unattended.
The answers to question about the so-called improvement at the baseball field are evasive both from the Cleveland Indians and from Gateway. True to standard.
Here’s what Indians PR spokesperson Bob DiBiasio said about the big but undisclosed plans, “We’re not there yet. It’s not a question that needs to be asked yet.”
Doesn’t need to be answered? That is strict PR bullshit from someone who never gets challenged by the news media. A happy face he has but not a trustful one for me. If you believe him on this one I have some special mortgage bonds to sell you.
“The Indians have not made any requests for alterations or payments,” was the answer from Gateway’s top operating official Todd Greathouse. Equally evasive. But not unexpected.
Don’t you think that the owner – Gateway – might want to inquire and have that information, especially when it has been in Crain’s Business, on line in my posts and now in the PD? And it could cost you millions of dollars? Oh why get testy.
It’s the disgusting proof – long tradition – that the owner are not in control of their facilities. The tenants are.
The question is WHO WILL PAY – THE TEAM OR THE PUBLIC?
Let me tell you. You will pay.
The PD – and I hope this ends the marriage the paper has had with Gateway – has been wed to Gateway and its desires from the beginning.
But the writing was on the wall.
Here’s what I wrote in the City News in April 2005:
“Gateway Economic Development Corp. Chairman Bill Reidy let it drop quietly, almost nonchalantly, during a non-eventful quarterly meeting a week ago.
“Reidy said that ‘the city and county would have to step in’ and put up money for Gateway’s capital fund when major repairs are necessary at Jacobs Field and Gund Arena (the original names for the two facilities
“What?” I wrote. Did I hear that right?
“Haven’t taxpayers paid enough for Gateway? Now Reidy wants the taxpayers to dig into their pockets for possibly hundreds of thousands of dollar in capital expenses that Gateway should have been putting aside itself,” I continued.
“Gateway, however, can’t put money aside because it has never charged the teams enough to maintain Jacobs Field and Gund Arena,” I went on.
“What’s so upsetting about this is that at that same meeting new representatives from the city – Chris Ronayne, Mayor Jane Campbell’s chief of staff – and Dennis Madden –Cuyahoga administrator – said nothing about this raid on their respective treasuries.” Somebody wake up our officials.
Let me tell you what I expect is happening.
Larry Dolan – and I expect Dan Gilbert won’t be far behind – has set in motion “improvements” at Progressive that will cost in the millions of dollars.
It will take some time.
But there will be money around. The sin tax extension of 10 years has a stipulation that the revenue up to $116 million will go to help pay for Browns Stadium for the City of Cleveland. However, once that total is reached the money – some $68 million had been the estimate – will go to the County. The tax has raised $94.3 million. So it’s not far from the $116 and is coming in at some $13 million a year.
The new money is not to go to Gateway. It is supposed to go to the County general fund. Where it is needed, I might add.
Watch County officials for the rest of this year. They must not be allowed to make any revisions that would send this money to Gateway.
At the time of the Reidy statement, I quoted a County official and wrote:
“’This is our money,’ said a County official. He went on to say, the County has paid an extra $100 million on other bonds and has to continue to paying. Now, it should derive the benefit from the 10 extra years of the sin tax, he said.”
So that’s the game – using more public dollars to boost the revenue of the teams.
My other suspicion, Dolan will use the improvement to help the revenue for the team and make it more valuable for sale purposes. Forbes in assessing the value of MLB teams puts the Indians at $391 million team value. Dolan bought the team for $323 from Dick Jacobs.
Do you think we ought to put a Dolan in as the County Chief executive to help rule whether the Cleveland Indians should get a helping of that $68 million coming due.” Matt Dolan has moved into Cuyahoga County to run for chief executive. Who would he represent in such a deal – his family or county taxpayers?
I think I know the answer.
My question is whether the Plain Dealer will deal with this money grab honestly. I hope so. But the PD’s record on this score is about as good as guys named Hagan, Dimora and Russo.
The PD story is here.
Here was my take on the improvement deal, here.
Roldo Bartimole celebrates 50 years of news reporting this year. He published and wrote Point of View, a newsletter about Cleveland, for 32 years. He worked for the Plain Dealer and Wall Street Journal in the 1960s.
He was a 2004 Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame recipient and won the national Joe Callaway Award for Civic Courage in 1991.