Roldo: Sell Browns Stadium for $1

You did expect them back, didn’t you? Oh, you had to.

They never stop, you know. It’s in their DNA. The 1 percenters. They WANT. More.

After the original sin tax passed, they came back for more – a $45 million County bond issue and then an added $75 million. Still paying for those at about $8 million a year. That’s a lot of money.

Then they came back–after firm promises not to–for a tax abatement, which they stretched into a tax exemption. Full taxes to never-to-pay. Cost: tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.

Now they came back again. They needed parking. So the city built two parking garages at some $40 million.

It wasn’t over. They came back for an extension of the sin tax–10 years atop the 15 years–that has cost County taxpayers $88 million as of January this year. And it still costs.

So now what?

Oh, a sin tax extension of the sin tax extension. Another 10 years? Fifteen years? Whatever they

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can get.

Randy Lerner of the Browns is leading the way and expecting to pull Larry Dolan of the Cleveland Indians along with mortgage/casino Dan Gilbert of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Three billionaires asking for sales taxes on beer, liquor, wine and cigarettes from the many. To pay their bills.

Of course, they need a public vote. We’ll hear from all the usual voices.

Here’s what I believe is a solution: Give it to them! All three playing fields. For $1 each. Not a penny more. That’s about free, isn’t it?

How could they refuse? They like free, don’t they?

All cities should end subsidizing these facilities.

Yeah, sell them the both stadiums and the arena for a $1 each. They’re worth many, many millions. Just give them to them. Have it over with.

Call me a give-away artist. There are taxes already in existence to pay the public’s share of the costs for the three facilities. Heavy costs. Tough costs.

But let’s be over this welfare burden.

Now is the time to tell the sports owners, you’re on your own. Grow up.

Here’s what I say goes along with the $1 bargain: They go back on the property tax rolls. And Randy Lerner pays rent on the land, valued at $15 million, beneath the stadium. It is owned by the city. The city now pays property taxes on the land at more than $400,000 a year. (Indeed, back on the tax rolls, Browns stadium would be paying some $8 million a year; Quicken Arena, $3.8 million a year; Progressive Field, $4.8 million a year, based on 2010 County figures. That’s more than $16 million per year regained in lost taxes, about half to the city’s schools.)

Over 25-30 years that’s a hell of a lot of money.

And then from now on, as it should be, the fabulously rich owners, the NFL, NBA, and MLB will pay for their own workplaces. Get off the dole, you rich bastards.

Time to pull your own weight. Isn’t that the American way? What say you, Plain Dealer? What say you, Kevin O’Brien, Dick Feagler, Tom Beres, all you sports reporters and commentators? Stop helping the sell-out. Grow a pair.

You have already been stupendously generous to these billionaires and their millionaire employees. You have been suckers. Time to wake up. Get real.

Now for the tragic news–how immense the cost has been.

Here are some figures of the tax outlay for Gateway and the Browns stadium. Not mine. Most 2012 from the current County Auditor’s department. You welfared them:

$240.5 Million (1st 15 years of sin tax)
$116.0 Million (County general fund payments for Gateway bonds)
$38.2 Million (City admission tax for Gateway Bonds)
$8.6 Million (County Bed Taxes for Gateway Bonds)
$8.8 Million (excess from sin taxes for Gateway Bonds)
$21.3 Million (labeled as “other” for County Gateway Bonds)
$3.75 Million (County to reimburse State Loan for Gateway)
$3.75 Million (City to reimburse State Loan for Gateway)
$5.8 Million (City advance to Browns for Capital Improvements)
$2.0 Million (Repay loan from Cleveland Foundation for Gateway)
$11.5 Million (County payment on Gateway overruns)

Yeah, that much.

Total Cost thus far: $460.2 Million. This is the most comprehensive accounting of the public cost of Cleveland’s sports venues anyone has produced.

(I wonder if the IRS ever thinks of totting all this free stuff for income tax purposes. They seem ready to do it for Jimmy Dimora.)

Let’s stop this madness.

It’s not over. Some payments continue to 2023. So it will be more than $460 million.

The tab is even still higher. We could add $37 million from State of Ohio; $3 million RTA; $2.24 million Cleveland Sewer Department; $1/2 million City Water Department. That’s just for Browns stadium.

I don’t have current figures for what Clevelanders are paying on bonds for the football stadium. However, by May 2009 the city had paid $102,823,947 and still owed $160,367,109 for bonds. Payments extend to 2027.

To pay for Browns stadium, the city–in addition to the sin tax money–added an 8 percent tax on all parking in the city, raised the admission tax on all events by 2 percent, and added a $2 a car rental fee. All dedicated to pay Lerner’s bills. (A full discussion of the Browns funding is here:

All those added city taxes, plus the list above, brings the total to well more than a half billion dollars with many more years to pay. (Can you imagine what we are spending nationally on these sports parasites? In the billions of dollars.) And we blame teachers for our fiscal troubles?

The owners still want more. Why not, if we give so easily.

The Browns and the business community, with the Greater Cleveland Partnership leading the parade, are asking for more sin taxes at about $13-$14 million a year to be extended presumably for another 10 years. That’s another $130 to $140 million.

Let’s not be suckers again, people.


— By Roldo Bartimole

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