Local Leaders Announce Deal Hatched in Private to Continue Pumping Public Money into Progressive Field


  • Sam Allard / Scene

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, County Executive Armond Budish, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine Indians owner Paul Dolan and others gathered at Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland to announce a so-called "deal" that will continue to pump millions of public dollars into the facility where the baseball team plays. The team will officially become the Guardians next season.

Under the terms of this deal which was negotiated entirely without public input, the Guardians will remain in Cleveland for 15 years, until 2036, with two possible five-year extensions that could ultimately keep pro baseball in Cleveland until 2046. (The extensions, reportedly demanded by Gov. Mike DeWine are meaningless at this point and will undoubtedly be contingent upon additional public subsidy.)

Though officials stressed repeatedly that there had been no explicit threats by team ownership of a potential move out of Cleveland, they also asserted that the "market" simply was what it was, and that cities have to pay their freight if they want pro clubs to stay put. Virtually everyone pointed out that Cleveland was the smallest market in the U.S. with three pro teams.

And so a combined $435 million will go towards various renovations, capital improvements and repairs at Progressive Field over the next 15 years. According to the proposed arrangement, the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County will pay the lion's share at $17 million per year ($255 million total). The State of Ohio will chip in $2 million per year ($30 million total). And the team will pay $10 million per year ($150 million total), in what owner Paul Dolan said was a comparable investment to teams of the Guardians' size.

Local public money will come from an array of sources that may or may not be already spoken for or tapped out. Cleveland will have to come up with $8 million per year, for example, from parking tax revenue at Gateway garages, a portion of the Progressive Field admissions tax, and the facility reserve that was created as part of the Q Deal. The County's roughly $9 million per year will come from the hotel bed tax, the sin tax on alcohol and cigarettes and the general fund.

Though Budish declared that the financial estimates were conservative and said there was plenty of money available from all of these sources, that's simply not the case. Teams have been spending willy nilly from the Sin Tax pot and the county is already paying down debt on bonds it took out as an advance on future Sin Tax revenue. Paul Dolan acknowledged that the Sin Tax was no longer a sufficient source of revenue to cover capital repairs at the ballpark, which is why the public contribution in the current deal will go, in part, to cover capital repairs over the life of the extension.

But unlike the Q Deal, in which renderings of the renovated basketball arena were unveiled at the public announcement, the scope of the Progressive Field improvements remain unclear. Dolan mentioned a reimagining of the "left field experience," a transformation of the "upper deck experience," and a new "dugout social space," but said that these were only a few of the changes being contemplated, that the renovation would be "a process" and that the money would be spent based on the "wants and needs of fans and players." He said that public contributions toward the stadium meant that the owners could allocate a larger share of their personal resources toward on-field expenses, i.e. players.

The deal will now have to pass both Cuyahoga County and Cleveland City Councils. Cuyahoga County Council President Pernel Jones Jr. gave brief remarks Thursday, celebrating the spirit of public-private collaboration. Just like the Q Deal in 2017, the Guardians extension arrives during an election year, and just like the Q Deal, Cleveland residents won't get a say.

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