Roldo: Tax Breaks for Millionaires, Pink Slips for Teachers in Cleveland

Rust Wire is honored to have been given permission to reprint this article by Cleveland’s foremost muckracker, Roldo Bartimole, a former Plain Dealer reporter and local folk hero with encyclopedic knowledge of the region and the guts to tell it like it is.

He has written this piece about how Cleveland’s elites have enriched themselves at the expense of the Cleveland Public Schools as a matter of course for decades. He was inspired by a recent Plain Dealer article that reported 300 CMSD teachers have been given a stay from layoffs.

Civic corruption comes in many forms.

We have been hearing a lot about corruption these days. However, the focus is very narrow. Unnecessarily so.

The Plain Dealer simply ignores the corruption that makes today’s hyper County sleaze activity look minor league. Even little league. We’re going to talk about multi-million dollar corruption. Nothing petty. And all legal.

The fact is that the PD actually promotes this BIG kind of corruption. It’s they’re kind of corruption. They push for it editorially. Always have; always will.

I’ll show you how it works.

We’re talking about tax abatements. You will read about a number of cases in which huge amounts of money have been given to very special people. Very special Rich people.

Most of the abatements are for 20 years or are tax exempted properties, meaning they will never ever pay any taxes. These cases represent large abated properties. They are only a small number of abatements given since 1977 when the program began in Ohio.

Yet over the years they will cost HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of lost tax dollars.

The lost revenue ordinarily would go to four levels of government. Presently, property tax revenue is shared by the following entities with the percentage of the total in parenthesis: Cleveland schools (55.13 percent rounded), Cuyahoga County (21.24 percent), City of Cleveland (15.68 percent) and Cleveland libraries (7.96 percent).

Rather than guard the public’s resources, slated for the common good, city and county officials – typically backed by the Plain Dealer’s editorials and lack of critical coverage – cater to the self-interests of Cleveland’s Establishment. Their actions have and are shameful.

‘I requested information from Joann Jackson of the County Auditor’s office about how much abatements cost us. I limited the search to a few big properties.

Here’s what I found in examining certain property tax revenue for the last two years:


The amount paid to Cuyahoga County this year and last year for property taxes on the Browns Stadium: ZERO.

Browns Stadium should have paid property taxes of $8,081,230 this year and $7,973,804 last year on the physical structure alone. That’s $16,055,034 over the two most recent years. Total value of the Browns stadium, including land, is slightly more than $300 million (Market value with taxes on 35 percent of that figure.)

That is a gift of $16 million in ONLY the last two years to the billionaire Lerner family, owners and users of the Browns. (This property will NEVER pay a penny in taxes on the structure as it has been tax exempted by state law, passed under
pressure of local politicians – mainly Commissioner Tim Hagan and former Mayor Michael White – and the Plain Dealer.)

I reported recently that the city also has paid $102.8 million on stadium bonds, owes $160.3 million more in payments due and has to come up with $44.55 million in capital improvements now and in future years. The State of Ohio chipped in $37 million more; RTA $3 million; City Water Dept. $2 million; Northeast Sewer District $2.24 million; and the city’s water pollution control division another $500,000. Lerner’s annual rent: $250,000 with no increase over 30 years. How hard is it to become a multi-millionaire?

Having given so much, why burden the Lerner family with having to pay property taxes. Shameful to ask that. The city, by the way, also pays the property taxes due on the land beneath the stadium. This year that bill was $452,724.


The amount paid to Cuyahoga County in property taxes this year and last year for Quicken Arena: ZERO.

Does this look like a man who can afford to pay taxes?

Quicken (formerly Gund) Arena should have paid property taxes of $3,816,609 this year and $3,765,873 last year. That’s $7,582,482 over the two most recent years. Total value of the Quicken Arena, including land, is slightly more than $50

This is a gift of some $7.5 million to the billionaire Dan Gilbert, Cavs owner. (This property also will NEVER pay taxes on the structure because of the actions of Hagan and White in passing legislation to EXEMPT forever all new stadia and arenas in Ohio.)

Citizens of Cuyahoga County built the arena for some $157 million but Gilbert controls it. Having given him the arena, why should we even suggest that he pay property taxes. Let’s not get greedy, citizens.


The amount paid to Cuyahoga County in property taxes this year and last year for Progressive Field: ZERO.

Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field) should have paid property taxes of

$4,882,764 this year and $4,817,856 last year. That’s $9,700,620 over the two most recent years. Total value of the baseball stadium, including land, is slightly more than $69 million. (This property will NEVER pay taxes on the structure because state legislation pushed by Hagan, White and the Plain Dealer was passed to EXEMPT all new sports facilities in Ohio FOREVER.)

The amount paid to Cuyahoga County in property taxes this year and last year for the Gateway Garage: ZERO.

The Gateway Garage, built by the City of Cleveland for the new sports facilities should have paid taxes of $652,963 this year and $644,283 last year. That’s near $1.3 million. The value of the garage is $10.5 million.

This is a gift of some $11 million to the billionaire Dolan family, owners of the Cleveland Indians.

Cuyahoga County citizens paid most of the some $180 million for the stadium but the Dolan family controls it. Why bother to ask them to pay property taxes? It might be seen as pushy.

We also note that the citizens of Cleveland alone built two parking facilities, one tax abated, at a cost of more than $40 million.

Are you seeing a pattern here?


The amount of property taxes paid to Cuyahoga County on Key Center, Cleveland’s tallest office building: ZERO

Key Center, built by multi-millionaire Dick Jacobs, should have paid $5,399,922.84 this year and $5,328,139 last year. That’s more than $10.7 million. Total value of the 57-story Key Center building, including land, is $72.4 million. (This property, in addition to $10-million, zero interest loan, was given a 20-year tax abatement, 100 percent tax abatement by Mayor George Voinovich and Council President George Forbes.)

This was a gift given by Voinovich and Forbes in 1988. Jacobs was yet to get a stadium built for him. The new stadium gave him an advantage to sell it to the Dolans for a pricy $320 million.

Oh, there’s more that Dick got.

The Marriott Hotel, attached to Key Center, should have paid $1,123,027 last year and $1,208,098 the previous year. That’s slightly more than $2.3 million. Total value of the 25-story Marriott Hotel, including land, is $15,594,500. (This property, in addition to another $7.9-million, zero interest loan, was provided a 20-year, 100 percent tax abatement by Voinovich and Forbes.)

As if that were not enough, Voinovich and Forbes gave Jacobs the ability to build a parking garage beneath the city’s Mall A, which is located in front of the Marriott Hotel. It’s called Memorial Park Garage.

Memorial Park Garage should have paid property taxes of $230,835 this year and $227,767 in property taxes last year. That’s some $457,000. Total value of the parking garage under Mall A is $5.2 million. (Voinovich and Forbes cancelled a contract with a top bidder to deliver the parking garage contract to Jacobs for 65 years. Jacobs hired Forbes’ favorite parking lot operator for the facility; Voinovich’s old law firm, Calfee & Halter, made $443,000 (paid by Jacobs) representing the city in the law suit resulting from the city’s action to give the deal to Jacobs. Jacobs offered to increase parking places from 600 to 1,200 but
it was cut to 900 in the final plan. Revenue payments also were reduced down under the Jacobs plan.)

Forbes and Voinovich didn’t stop there. They were even more eager to fill Jacobs’s pockets.

The two – Voinovich and Forbes – offered the same sweet deal as Key Center to Jacobs for the west side of Public Square. It was to be another office building and hotel. You may notice that the west side of Public Square – which in 1989 had working office buildings that Jacobs then knocked down – remains a parking lot. Has been a parking lot since the early 1990s.

Further, other downtown buildings, damaged as tenants moved to Key Center, sought and got tax reductions. Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, for example, moved into Key Center from the Huntington Building. The law firm wrote the state legislation for tax abatement in the 1970s. (As an example, Jacobs’s E. 9th corner, left vacant for years. He was rescued, however, by the County
Commissioners, who bought the complex of buildings for new County offices. It remains vacant, of course.)

The absurdity of these abatements hasn’t penetrated the minds of politicians or editors, however.


The amount paid in property taxes on the luxury Wyndham Hotel for this year and last year: ZERO.

The Wyndham Hotel, built public subsidy upon public subsidy, should have paid property taxes of $339,500 this year and $334,987 last year. That’s some $674,000 over the two most recent years. Total value for tax purposes of the 200-plus luxury hotel at Playhouse Square is $4.7 million, including land. That’s very low.

The luxury Wyndham was soaked with government subsidies in addition to the tax abatement, including a $5.5 million zero interest loan; a low interest state loan of $4 million; a tax incremental financing deal worth several million
dollars over 20 years; the city helped purchase part of the land for $2 million then invest $1.5 million to improve the site and sold it to Playhouse Square Foundation for less than $1 million. The subsidies came to some $136,000 per room. “Credit” this rotten deal to Mayor White and then Council President Jay Westbrook.


The amount paid in property taxes this year and last year for the luxury Ritz- Carlton: ZERO.

The Ritz-Carlton, a luxury hotel at Tower City, should have paid a total of $1,718,020 for this year and the last year on four parcels tax abated for Sam Miller interests. The market value of the properties is $31.1 million.

This amounts to a generous gift of $1.7 million to the multi-millionaire Miller. The hotel piggybacked on the Marriott for an abatement. The city also gave a $7.9 million, zero interest loan for the 207-room hotel built into Tower City. Why not help a multi-millionaire if you can?

That covers only 9 tax abatement projects in the city of Cleveland. There are many, many more. Admittedly, these are among the largest.

In any case, the total cost of these abatements for ONLY TWO YEARS totals some $480 million in lost tax revenue. Two years remember. Tax revenue sliced away from Cuyahoga County’s tax collections. Taxes that you – if you are a property tax payer in Cuyahoga County (or even a renter for that matter) – have to make up.

You won’t see this on the front page of the Plain Dealer. They avoid such information as if it were the plague. Indeed, the paper and its editors will fight to keep the public from being informed about this issue. In future, I’ll try to show how they have done this and flesh out the issue of abatements.

There someday will be more buildings built in downtown Cleveland. The issue of
tax abatement will arise again. So I hope you will print out this information and

keep it handy.

Of course, developers today are getting tax abatements on new housing
development, especially in downtown Cleveland. It helps to offer a tax
abatement to buyers. You can get a better price if you tell a prospect that they
will be saving thousands of dollars by not paying taxes.

The wealthy love NOT PAYING TAXES. It’s a major ingredient of wealth. Believe

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