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City's share of proposed Progressive Field renovations undergo council scrutiny

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Posted at 5:46 PM, Nov 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-29 13:24:33-05

CLEVELAND — The financing package behind the proposed $435 million renovation of Progressive Field and lease extension for the Cleveland Guardians underwent scrutiny Tuesday morning by the Cleveland City Council’s Development, Planning and Sustainability Committee.

Claiming that the renovations are needed in order to have the Guardians renew their lease through the mid 2030s, the city, Cuyahoga County and the State of Ohio would be responsible for nearly 65% of the cost of the proposal.

Between the city, county and the state, public contributions to the deal would total $19 million per year.

The Cuyahoga County Council approved the county’s yearly contributions to the project — totaling $9 million — last week.

The City of Cleveland will contribute $8 million annually under the terms of the deal and the State of Ohio will contribute $2 million per year. Total public contributions amount to $285 million.

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The city’s portion of the financing package is a smorgasbord of different funds, including $3.2 million from the sports facility improvement fund, $2.6 million in admission tax revenue, $2 million in parking garage revenue, $333,000 in revenue from selling the naming rights of the parking garage as well as $350,000 in unspecified sources.

However, in the event that revenues from those funds fall short, the situation grows a little more murky.

“What I’m wrestling with is another investment, a continued investment into a sporting complex and, yet, what do I see? I see a loss of the equivalency of two council wards the past 10 years, population-wise,” said Councilman Mike Polensek (Ward 8). “If the funding streams fall short, the general fund has to make up the difference. Everybody needs to understand that around this table. The general fund makes up the difference.”

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Proponents of the deal point to the transformative impact the stadium had on the Downtown area upon opening in April 1994. In the years that followed, the stadium was home to a streak of sellout crowds that ended at 455 straight games.

According to Tom Yablonsky, the executive director of the Historic Gateway District Neighborhood Corporation, when the then-Jacobs Field opened, there were no hotels in the three districts that form the Gateway Complex and only a half-dozen full service restaurants.

“In Downtown Cleveland in 1990 we had 6 residential addresses. We have 88 today. I would argue that, macro picture, Gateway, was a huge trigger of that to make it a 24 hour Downtown,” he said.

Polensek and Yablonsky briefly sparred over whether the impact of Progressive Field has led to tangible benefits in other parts of the city, including the so-called Dean of Council’s ward on the far East Side, which includes the Collinwood neighborhood.

“It’s not happening on the East Side,” Polensek said.

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Ward 6 Councilman and council president-elect, Blaine Griffin, noted that comparing the proposed deal, which would ensure the Guardians will remain in Cleveland through 2036, cannot be compared to other stadiums in other cities because of the different market dynamics in other communities as well as the different revenue share agreements in the NFL and MLB.

When Progressive Field first opened, the team’s largest revenue stream came from ticket sales. Currently, for most teams, including the Guardians, the largest chunk of team revenue comes from media rights, including television, cable and streaming.

“Sometimes people lump all these teams together and all of these stadium deals together and there are different market dynamics at play,” Griffin said. “Some people intend to try to start to compare apples to oranges on this. I hope the public gets some clarification on that.”

Even after more than four hours of discussions, the council committee voted to move the legislation authorizing the financing package to the council’s Finance Committee for further deliberations.