Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in an interview this morning with Ken Carman and Anthony Lima on 92.3 The Fan
said that when he was approached by city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County officials to chip in state money for upgrades to Progressive Field as part of a lease extension with the Cleveland Indians, he sent the proposed framework and parties back to the table with a directive to craft an agreement that included a longer lease agreement.
"I felt the longer the lease, the better it would be for Indians fans and important for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio," DeWine said. "They were talking about a shorter lease, a 15-year lease. What I said is, look, I think we can be helpful but I would like to see a longer lease. They've been working on that, and I'm optimistic of where that's going to go."
The Indians' lease at Progressive Field is up in 2023 and, as professional teams tend to do, the Cleveland baseball club is using the leverage to seek tens of millions of dollars in publicly funded upgrades at the stadium. The city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County will be contributing, but with purse strings already tight thanks to other commitments, they sought help from the state.
Reports have previously said the state's portion of the bill, the grand total of which hasn't yet been disclosed, would be $30 million. DeWine said two weeks ago that the current framework would include a 15-year lease extension with two five-year options that could be executed by the city and county, not the team, after that.
County executive Armond Budish and mayor Frank Jackson, whose inept performances in the Q Deal left no doubt that they would ever be considered master negotiators,
apparently brought the initial 15-year framework that was less favorable to the public to DeWine earlier this year.
As for what the grand total will be and how much the city and county will be on the hook for, DeWine gave no concrete information besides saying that the state's role in this project is "not necessarily a big one."
Acknowledging, unlike local officials, that the Dolan family is committed to Cleveland and has never talked publicly or private about moving the team, DeWine nevertheless argued that, because of the team's small-market stature, the state has an obligation to contribute to the upgrades.
"The Dolans have been very clear that they're all in for the Indians and baseball in Cleveland, and I don't want anyone to interpret this conversation as that the Dolan family isn't focused on Cleveland," DeWine said. "I've just been around long enough to know the markets and revenues when you're dealing with a small market team, and there could be at some point in the future, maybe with different ownership, possibly moving the team. Now, I have no indication that could happen, but you worry about it."
DeWine defended the idea of the state handing millions of dollars to a professional sports team in the midst of pandemic recovery by reiterating that Ohio was careful with spending during 2020 and has come out "in very good shape" in 2021.
And, "You've seen the state have some role [in stadium upgrades] before, and it's not doing it for the owners, you're doing it because we have two small market teams in Ohio and baseball is very different than the NFL, where you're dividing evenly the biggest revenue stream," he said. "In baseball, you have a great disparity in teams' ability to get players and do what they need to do to compete, so it's tough for small market teams to begin with."