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Cleveland Browns confirm starting internal discussions on stadium renovations

Some Cleveland leaders against turning to Northeast Ohio taxpayers to help with hundreds of millions in renovation costs
Cleveland Browns confirm starting internal discussions on stadium renovations
Posted at 11:05 PM, Mar 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-14 11:26:54-04

News 5 confirmed through a Cleveland Browns spokesperson "internal discussions" are ongoing concerning needed renovations at FirstEnergy Stadium, but the organization could not provide information on how much those improvements would cost, or whether Northeast Ohio taxpayers would be asked to help pay for the improvements.

The Browns issued the following statement in response to News 5's request:

"A Browns spokesperson confirmed that the team has had internal discussions about renovations of FirstEnergy Stadium and how it would fit into a boarder vision for the lakefront. The team has made progress on a feasibility study launched last year but couldn't provide any further details at this time."

News 5 reached out to Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb about the internal talks and whether his office is part of those discussions, but so far, the mayor and his administration will not comment.

Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin believes the talks needed to start this year because the FirstEnergy Stadium lease between the city and the Browns expires in 2028.

“The time is now to start having these conversations," Griffin said. “We really need to make sure that the public understands why this investment is possibly needed. I think the more that we spend time on the front end educating the public on whether or not this is a good return on their investment it will go a long way.”

Cleveland Browns confirm starting internal discussions on stadium renovations
Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin said FirstEnergy Stadium renovations will provide benefits to the city.

Griffin said it's too early to discuss how Northeast Ohio taxpayers would help pay for stadium improvements.

“I believe there’s going to have to be a lot of creativity, we’re going to have to have a lot of conversations with our adjoining counties as well as Cuyahoga County council and the county executive," Griffin said. “Everybody, the county and quite frankly the region and the state all need to look at what does this asset mean for our region.”

Griffin believes a stadium renovation or a new facility will yield city benefits, and would not take away from needed improvements in many Cleveland neighborhoods.

“I want to change that narrative, downtown represents about 50% of our economy, so when we bring in those kinds of investments we actually create more income taxpayers, we actually have more admissions tax, we have other things like the bed tax and hotel tax,” Griffin said.

However, Ward 8 Cleveland Councilman Michael Polensek was less enthusiastic about the internal discussions about a stadium renovation. Polensek was one of nine "No votes" for the 1996 funding package that helped to build the current Browns stadium at a cost of more than $280 million dollar, 75% of which was publicly funded.

“We’ve paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to support the Browns stadium and at the end of the day what did we wind up with, number one in poverty, number one in childhood poverty, 4,000 abandoned houses in the city," Polensek said. “I was here, I heard the promises, and they weren’t delivered upon and I wish I could stand here and say I was wrong, but I wasn’t wrong and I’m glad I was one of the nine that voted against it.”

Cleveland Browns confirm starting internal discussions on stadium renovations
Ward 8 Cleveland Councilman Michael Polensek believes construction of the current Browns stadium did not create the promised city benefits.

Polensek had his own idea on who should pay for a Browns stadium renovation.

“Let the people who go to the Browns games pay, let it be added onto their tickets, let there be an addendum to the tickets," Polensek said. "If you want to go the Browns game you pay the additional money.

“Why should the residents of my neighborhood have to pay for that, and why is it just Cleveland, when the majority of the people in that complex are not from Cleveland during game day?"

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns spokesperson directed News 5 back to a statement the organization issued back on June 20, 2022.

“As we have consistently communicated, along with the City of Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Partnership and other prominent local organizations, we have been immersed in discussing ways to best approach the lakefront’s future and the stadium naturally is a critical piece to the long-term execution of such a project.

Contrary to recent speculation, a recent feasibility study we launched does not contemplate a new stadium or showcase new stadium sites. [A significant stadium renovation at our current site is the premise of the study as well as a focus on how to provide accessibility to the lakefront, drive density and create 365-destination major development opportunities that would include new public parks, retail, office, experiential and residential spaces.]

The vision, as many in our community have already seen, is centered on an extensive land bridge. As we are just beginning the study, we certainly do not have enough information to determine the cost of renovating the stadium or what the aesthetics of such a renovation would entail.

We believe our study will help answer those questions and should be completed in 2023. [The future of the stadium is one of several important pieces to the long-term execution of the lakefront project, and our organization looks forward to continuing to work with our community partners and leaders to identify next steps and our role in helping advance this initiative."

News 5 reached out Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne for our story, but his office said it has not yet been contacted by the Cleveland Browns about the internal discussions on stadium renovations.

News 5 will continue to follow through on this developing story.

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