by Karen Farkas for The Cuyahoga County Insider

February 14, 2017

CLEVELAND, Ohio - More than 200 people packed Cuyahoga County Council chambers Tuesday on both sides of a proposed plan to spend tax dollars to renovate Quicken Loans Arena.

Before the largest crowd ever to attend a meeting since council formed six years ago, a resolution allowing the county to sell $140 million in bonds to expand and update the arena was introduced.

Council did not discuss the issue, which will be weighed before the committee-of-the-whole on Feb. 21. But council members listened raptly as about two dozen people spoke for and against the proposal.

If approved, the plan will cost a total of $282 million over 17 years, with loan interest and creation of a rainy day fund. Taxes will pay for $160 million of that total.

The Cavs will pay $122 million through increased rent payments, Cleveland will provide more than $88 million, using its admissions tax on tickets to Q events from the years 2024 through 2034, and more than $44 million will come from the budget of Destination Cleveland, which will give up a piece of the county bed tax it receives.

The county will provide $16 million, by dipping into the reserve fund it set up for the convention center and Hilton Cleveland Downtown, both of which are complete.

There will be no new taxes.

About two-thirds of the crowd opposed the resolution, but a number of people, including area businessmen, union leaders and Q employees, were there to support the measure.

Members of Greater Cleveland Congregations, a non-partisan coalition which represents 100,000 people across 43 congregations and partner organizations in Cuyahoga County, made up the bulk of the crowd.

Leaders told council they want Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to commit as many tax dollars to neighborhood development as are proposed for renovating The Q.

Rabbi Joshua Caruso of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple said the deal sets a dangerous precedent and wondered aloud what would stop the Cleveland Indians or Cleveland Browns from seeking a similar deal in the future.

The money spent by Destination Cleveland, the city and the county could be better used to help neighborhoods, opponents said.

They wanted to know what protection there was for the investment and whether the Cavs would leave if they got a new owner or better deal.

"I find this deal unconscionable," said GCC member Donna Weinberger of Solon. "This deal is not fair, equitable and not the best we can do to bring vitality and growth to all our neighborhoods."

She cited Nike's new 'diversity' ad featuring LeBron James. "The ball should bounce the same for everyone," she said.

Pastor Richard Gibson of Elizabeth Baptist Church said if the deal is looked at from a business perspective, council has to determine the best return on an investment.

"How do you allocate those funds?" he asked. Gibson said there are many needs that could be met with that money.

The Rev. Dr. Jawanza Karriem Colvin, pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, said the issue could divide a city that had been united behind the Cavs. He asked that the process be slowed down.

The measure could be voted on as early as Feb. 28.

GCC members handed council members chocolate and red envelopes that contained invitations to a March 9 meeting their group will hold about the proposal.

Among those who spoke in favor of the project were Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council president Terry Joyce and executive secretary David Wondolowski.

They said their organization, which includes about 14,000 members, supports the renovation not only because it means jobs, but because The Q and Gateway have revitalized downtown Cleveland and have led to more development and thousands of jobs for Greater Clevelanders.

"Tens of millions has been spent in Cleveland only because people are attending events in the Q," Wondolowski said. "This  is not about downtown versus the neighborhoods-  I want to be really clear about this. It is about our collective future."

Chef Rocco Whelan spoke of his commitment to Cleveland, his restaurant employees and the growth of the city.

He said the project will lead to additional opportunities.

"I feel Cleveland has made tremendous strides," he said. "My blue- and white- collar workers are the strongest reason I stand before you. Like you, I roll my sleeves up daily."

He recalled his playing days at the Richfield Coliseum and how public investment revitalized downtown Cleveland. He acknowledged there are many unmet needs in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

Other supporters included businessmen Fred DiSanto, on the board of trustees of the Cleveland Sports Commission; Terry Uhl, executive director of Shoes and Coats for Kids; Marc Nathanson, senior development executive at Youth Opportunities Unlimited; and Joe Marinucci, president and CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance.

Former NBA player and Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers said his city supports the project but understands the passion of those who oppose it.

"This is not an either-or proposition," he said. "You can do one and figure out the other."

"There are 70 good people from Warrensville Heights working at Quicken Loans Arena," he said. "Each one of those people need that money. I want to say that you can do both."

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