Cleveland City Council blindsided after mayor's office backs off new police HQ property purchase

CLEVELAND - Two Cleveland city councilmen said they were shocked and disappointed to learn Monday that officials from Mayor Frank Jackson’s office had seemingly backed out of the deal to purchase the former Plain Dealer building on Superior Avenue.

The acquisition of the property was the centerpiece of a $60 million deal to create a new headquarters for the police department. In a short and to-the-point letter sent to the developer on Sept. 18 but released on Monday, city officials said it no longer wanted to purchase the property at 1801 Superior Ave.

"At this time the city of Cleveland no longer desires to pursue the purchase of 1801 Superior Ave. property for the Cleveland Division of Police Headquarters with GLP Superior LTD. Thank you for working with the city on this important project."  

The letter is signed by Matthew Spronz, the director of capital projects.

Councilman Michael Polensek (Ward 8) said he had heard rumors for the past several days that the deal could be in jeopardy. However, he dismissed those rumors, Polensek said.

“I’m shocked. There had been no indication to the [council]. There had been no briefing. Nothing,” Polensek said. “We heard rumors and then we saw a seven line paragraph indicating that we’re out of the deal. The council is owed an explanation.”

Councilman Matt Zone, the chairman of the council’s safety committee, was equally as surprised. 

“I was never briefed by the administration on their decision to abandon the deal. I’m very disappointed,” Councilman Zone said.

Dan Williams, the media relations director for Mayor Jackson, declined to provide additional comment Tuesday afternoon. He also declined to answer questions pertaining to why the city no longer desired to purchase the property.

In July, after months of planning and several meetings, the city council approved the purchase of the former Plain Dealer building and relocation of police headquarters. The acquisition of the property would cost the taxpayers $19.5 million. The remaining sum of the $60 million project would cover the costs of renovating and building out the structure to accommodate the police department’s needs.

It was going to be just one part of the puzzle.

On Oct. 2 the city will transfer ownership of the current police department headquarters, which is located in the Justice Center, to Cuyahoga County for just under $10 million. In turn, the city would lease back the property from the county for up to one year. The city would lease the property for $10 per square foot, plus parking fees and its share of utilities.

According to the lease agreement, the total cost of the one year lease was more than $2.8 million. The deal was struck under the assumption that the police department would move into its new location by Spring 2019. However, with the project seemingly on hold, that lease agreement might need to be renegotiated or extended, depending on whether the project is resuscitated. Everything is now up in the air, Polensek said.

“This was a $60 million project. That’s a lot of dough. A lot of money. [Mayor Frank Jackson’s office] needs to explain this us,” Polensek said. “There might be something very valid but until they tell us at the table, we’re all speculating.”

Some have theorized that there were hangups associated with the tenants currently occupying part of The Plain Dealer building and their leases. However, Polensek said he has not been provided with concrete information. 

The former Plain Dealer building was seen as the perfect option among roughly two dozen properties that a consultant hired by the mayor’s office provided to council earlier this year. The property was close to downtown and the highway, in addition to having ample space and parking. The building was constructed in 2000 so it is still relatively new. Additionally, the cost of renovating the former Plain Dealer building was a fraction of what it would cost to construct a new building somewhere else.

No matter what happens, Polensek said a new police headquarters is sorely needed.

“If you look at the facilities that [the police department is] operating out of, whether it be the Justice Center or the district houses, it is embarrassing,” Polensek said. “We need to give them the best kind of complex possible. That site made the most sense out of what was presented to us.”

City officials have said the police department’s current space at the Justice Center has limited access, storage and parking.

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