CLEVELAND — The failed deal three years to acquire the Plain Dealer Plaza as part of a new headquarters for the Cleveland Division of Police continues to haunt the city and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. On Wednesday, the City Council’s Safety Committee advanced legislation to renew the city’s lease agreement with Cuyahoga County for the division’s current headquarters at the Justice Center. Expected to cost $2.1 million, the lease renewal comes as city officials don’t anticipate construction on the new police headquarters near Opportunity Corridor to begin until 2023.
In late 2018, city officials acknowledged that the city’s plans of acquiring 1801 Superior Ave., the Plain Dealer Plaza property, were officially dead, culminating in a bitter end to a year’s worth of negotiations and planning. Although the city never publicly acknowledged the reason for the impasse, sources said at the time that the deal was derailed by two existing tenants that had long-term leases at the property.
Months before the deal fell apart, the city sold its portion of the Justice Center to Cuyahoga County for around $9.2 million. Planning for the time needed to renovate the Plain Dealer Plaza into the new CPD headquarters, the city then signed a lease with the county to lease back the Justice Center. At the time, city officials did not expect to need to renew the lease for an optional year, let alone two.
At $10 per square foot, the first year of the lease cost the city more than $1.5 million, excluding utilities and parking fees. The three additional one-year options included rent increases of $2 per square foot per year. Members of the Safety Committee on Wednesday afternoon expressed frustration that, yet again, the city has to renew its lease, this time, at $16 per square foot. The total cost of the lease renewal is $2.1 million.
“With more than $2 million looming over our heads in just rent, I think we as a council and the city as a whole need to start making this a higher priority,” said Councilman Brian Kazy (Ward 16). “I think it’s more than just a sense of urgency because come Oct. 2, 2022, technically we could be homeless, right? We could be out of the Justice Center. [The county] could lock us out if we don’t renew a new lease.”
A Cuyahoga County spokesperson doesn’t anticipate that happening, given the county’s continued partnership with the city. The spokesperson said if the city were to need to extend the lease agreement for an additional year, county officials would welcome discussions.
The reason behind the $2 per square foot, per year increases in the lease, the spokesperson said, is quite simple: the city signed the lease agreement.
“The concept is that the county is encouraging the city to vacate the space by increasing it by $2 per square foot, per year,” said James DeRosa, the real estate commissioner for the City of Cleveland.
In early 2020, the City Council gather green light for the construction of a new police headquarters located near East 75th Street and Grand Ave. in the Kinsman neighborhood. The location, which is adjacent to Opportunity Corridor, was identified by city officials because of its future access to Opportunity Corridor, access to public transit, and the availability of city-controlled land. The new headquarters would be able to accommodate 600 officers and up to 1000 total employees, potentially serving as a catalyst for retail development nearby.
However, both Chief Calvin Williams and Safety Director Karrie Howard acknowledged Wednesday that construction on the projected $60 million projects wouldn’t begin until 2023. This timeline creates a situation where the city could potentially be forced to continue renting the Justice Center from the county for an additional two years, all but assuring that any money the city made on selling the property would be eaten away by having to rent it.
“There is a sense of urgency that we need to be out of this building and into our own headquarters,” Howard said. “We have got to get the new police headquarters accomplished to move out of this facility. We share your frustration with this.”
The Division of Police has explored ways to further reduce its footprint at the Justice Center by more than the 10,000 square feet the city stopped renting in early 2020, Williams said. However, those initiatives, which would include a new training center at the former South High School as well as a new location for property and evidence storage, would require additional funding. The costs of either initiative are not known.