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Do Sports Facilities Make Downtown Cleveland "Strong?"

By Roldo Bartimole

The claim is that we need more public investment to keep Cleveland strong. Does the evidence prove this? You know the answer.

On Sunday April 6 the Plain Dealer ran an article based on a study done for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was meant to measure the value of sports facilities to our community.

Hiring a firm whose business essentially serves the industry it is asked to assess suggests you don’t really want a straight answer. You seek a rigged game.

The truth is the study done by a Texas based firm Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, and promoted on the Plain Dealer’s front page represents the assessment of a business that advises about the building and renovating of arenas, stadiums, convention centers and more. It speaks to and for its client base.

The Cavalier management hired a firm supported by sports facilities to ask whether such ventures were economically productive. It got the answer it wanted.

The study estimated that more than $2.7 billion was added to the downtown economy and another $1.4 billion to the region.

In other word, the public financing was a big success. So the public should vote more subsidies.

The Plain Dealer decided the “study” was worthy of a striking front page using scarce space of 12 inches deep by four columns width in its Sunday edition. A large graphic of 210 small basketballs dramatized the points the report sought to make. It was an impressive display of the paper’s editorial position in favor of the tax. The basketballs represented jobs, taxes paid and economic activity claimed by the teams.

It is the firm’s business to serve the builders of sports facilities. Why would it ever tell clients, “It’s not worth it?”

Its study ignored vast public investments as engines of progress. It disregarded evidence of decay and failures downtown.

The study gives the client, in this case, sports owners wanting a 20-year, $290 million tax to be voted May 6, an A-plus in delivering progress. The truth is less convincing.

The PD story did quote from some economists who looked askance at the contention of success by the study financed by the Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

Heywood Sanders, professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, San Antonio and an expert on convention centers and their economic impact upon cities, in an e-mail questioned the lack of backup material on the points made. “… the ‘economic impact’ arguments of the consultants simply act to shift the real question away from other public priorities and the benefits from sports facilities. It’s a great deal for the consultants, and the teams look like they are actually a community plus.” How convenient.

Huge public costs endured by Cleveland and Cuyahoga County for these sports facilities are ignored. It also ignores significant other public subsidies to other downtown projects.

What the PD hasn’t done and should have been doing for years is totaling what the community has spent already for these three sports franchises, all private businesses. Then let the public vote with awareness.

First, the costs for the facilities themselves. The prime financing was a 15-year sin tax. You might have thought it would end there.

Actually, it was not sufficient since the construction costs were significantly higher than originally estimated. The baseball stadium was estimated to cost $75 million. It ended costing $180 million. The arena was given a $75 million price tag but ultimately cost $157 million. Cuyahoga County had to add funds with unvoted bond issues beyond the sin tax, as noted below.

The first 15 years of the sin tax on cigarettes, wine, beer and alcohol, which the promoters of an extension of the tax say correctly, amounts to only pennies or nickels on each purchase. However, it raised an astounding $240.5 million. The true cost. On some of these purchases restaurants and retailers tag on the 8 percent sales tax. This really adds millions more in taxes.

A 10-year extended sin tax an added $113 million has collected by December, 2013. We expect another $12 to $13 million this year. It will continue through August, 2015 at about $1-million more a month, or another $9-million next year. That suggests an addition of $20 million bringing the total to about $133-million in the second 10-year period.

So for the 25 years of the sin tax, citizens will have paid $240.5 million and $133 million or some $373.5 million in pennies and nickels. How they roll in. The taxes, of course, are regressive, meaning they weigh more heavily on ordinary citizens.

No one in the news media compiles these numbers so that the public can get a feel for just how much this is taking out of the economy of Northeastern Ohio, mostly Cuyahoga County. You can’t spend the money twice.

Surely, that money could be spent elsewhere to benefit other businesses and city priorities, such as police, fire, health, recreation and neighborhood improvements.

But the costs hardly end there for taxpayer support of these sports teams. And their enormously wealthy owners.

We are still paying for Gateway overruns. This never seems to be acknowledged. In addition to sin tax. Each January 15 the County pays for two bond issues voted by Tim Hagan, Mary Boyle and Jim Petro. The bonds were for $75-million and $45-million. The $75 million bond was enacted in a 30 second meeting. The three commissioners walked into the public meeting, read a summary of the legislation and they each immediately voted “Yes,” and swiftly adjourned the meeting. In another public meeting, Hagan choose to invite construction workers there to support the sin tax into his office “for coffee” just when it was the public’s turn to comment. He and the workers left the room.

Such contempt for the public and voters.

Since 1995 bondholders have been paid each January 15 some $8 to $10 million. As part of these payments, Cuyahoga County has paid from its general revenue fund a total of $128,364,407 since 1995. In addition revenue from the city’s admission tax and the county bed tax have diverted another $45,463,717 more to bondholders from public coffers. The payments will continue through 2023.

In addition, the County and city each have repaid Gateway loans from the Cleveland Foundation of $2-million plus and each paid $3,750,000 to the State of Ohio for Gateway loans made to meet overruns on the arena construction.

Cuyahoga County also paid contractors $11.5 million for overruns on the arena construction.

Then there is the Browns Stadium. No official figure has ever been issued of the actual cost of the lakefront stadium. Most believe it cost more than $300 million to construct. It is now called First Energy Stadium. Some $102-million naming rights to be paid by First Energy go solely to the Browns. The city shares no naming rights revenue from the source though it owns the stadium and the land it sits upon.

In 2009 when I checked the city had paid $102,823,947 to bondholders. In 2010 the city refinanced bonds to the tune of another $183 million. The prospectus said the city in addition to paying bondholders had to pay $850,000 to the capital fund in 2010 through 2020. By 2021 the contribution jumps to $5.9 million and slightly higher in succeeding years until 2025 when it hits $7.5 million.

However, last year the Browns and city agreed to further capital expenditures for stadium improvements. The city pledged $2 million a year for the next 15 years. Another $30 million.

Browns stadium costs are paid via taxes voted by City Council, without a vote of residents. These taxes were levied for 29 years as follows:

– A city parking tax of 8 percent estimated to raise $213,000,000.

– A 2 percent increase in admission taxes estimated to bring in $36,000,000.

– A $2 car rental fee expected to produce $18,000,000.

– Tax revenues from the second sin tax dedicated some $110 million to the football stadium.

More came from other sources.

The State of Ohio provided $37,050,000; RTA contributed $3,000,000; the Northeast Sewer district, $2,246,760; and free use of city lakefront land valued at the time as $19,007,400. There were always suspicions that other city work was done gratis.

The Browns pay rent of only $250,000 a year without even a clause to reflect inflation increases over 30 years. In the final year renting the old stadium, Art Modell paid the city $637,144, almost three times the present rent some 20 years later. Further the city now pays more in property taxes on the land than Jimmy Haslam pays in rent. The city also pays the insurance on the stadium, which rose to $180,000 annually after 9/ll.

The other factor never really discussed is the lost tax revenue due to the sports facilities tax exemption. After promising voters in 1990 no tax abatements, Cleveland Mayor Michael White and County Commissioner Tim Hagan successfully lobbied the state legislature to totally exempt all sports facilities from paying property taxes forever. County property taxes go mostly to Cleveland schools. The sin tax promoters originally promised an additional $15 million a year to the Cleveland schools. This promise was never met. Property tax revenue is also lost in smaller amounts by the county, city and city libraries each year.

To give a feel for the loss of tax revenue due to sports facilities these figures suggest the impact.

In 2012, I asked for County figures on the value of the sports facilities and the totals for exempted taxes. Here they are:

– Progressive Field – value $172-million with exempted taxes of $904,050,000 for the year. (Gateway did pay tax on land at $134,309 in 2012).

– Quicken Arena – valued at $134-million with exempted taxes of $706,650,000. (Gateway did pay tax on land at $47,887 in 2012).

– Browns Stadium – $285-million value with exempted taxes of $1,496,205. (The city, which owns the land beneath the stadium, the only portion taxable, paid $83,822.55 in 2012).

Multiply these figures by decades of exemption and you realize what a bonanza of tax relief has been given for sports here.

Significant losses of public revenues should be considered when assessing the success of such projects. None of this is mentioned in the report to Dan Gilbert. The Plain Dealer also ignored this crucial public issue.

The other major problem with Issue 7 for the sin tax is the lack of transparency. The teams have not told us how they expect to use the money. The hint is that the millions of dollars are needed to insure the integrity of the buildings. But major items on the list seem to be larger, fancier scoreboards, which produce advertising revenue for the team owners. Nothing for the city or county.

And if the past is any hint of what’s to come there’s likely to be much misspent money.

For example, Gateway built into then Jacobs field a two-level, 900-seat restaurant and bar at a cost of $5.1 million. It became the largest restaurant in downtown Cleveland. It was fully furnished by Gateway from the cooking equipment to the spoons, forks & knives for diners. Another $2 million upscale restaurant was built into the arena, also fully furnished. Neither pays property taxes giving them another advantage over other restaurants, which not only pay taxes but have to pay for their furnishings.

Further, the Cleveland Indians enjoyed a $7-million office structure with $900,000 of furniture and equipment. The structure was not specified in the lease agreement but I was told at the time that it hid an unsightly ramp as the reason for its construction. My suggestion of shrubbery to hide the ramp fell on deaf ears. The offices included by request of the team owner an 18 foot by five foot boat-shaped conference table with an inserted metal emblems of Chief Wahoo and special wooden inserts resembling the stitching of a baseball.

Although warned by the supplier it wasn’t suitable, the Indians insisted on a certain Italian marble for its loge coffee tables. At a cost of $330,000, Gateway brought marble from Lucca, Italy. The supplier told me, “They asked for the marble, we provided it,” despite warning it was improper to use as table tops. The dark green marble tops soon began to crack. The team complained.

The Gund brothers, who owned the Cavs when the arena was built, had loges (team owners got two free loges each in their respected facilities) spent $600,000 to have them converted to living quarters. Gateway officials learned of the expenditure and the Gunds eventually paid for the alterations.

But there is more to examine to determine whether these and other projects pay off for taxpayers. The consultants failed to examine other public subsidies within downtown in their positive claims attributed to sports.

To insure adequate parking for the sports facilities the city built two parking garages financed at some $42 million in bonds. Since the teams were allowed free access to hundreds of garage parking spaces, the garages were significant money-losers. The garage built on Gateway land also enjoys exemption of property taxes. The city pays for the deficits.

The public also finance a walkway for fans at a cost of $13 million; a waterfront RTA rapid at a cost of $69 million, totally locally financed because RTA was urged to do it quickly, spurning federal funding that could have paid the major share of the cost. The line operates at a significant loss. RTA had to abort its operation for a time because of the red ink.

Although the report for the Cavalier organization credits the arena with spreading “economic growth throughout downtown Cleveland,” it ignores significant decline and ignores other massive public subsidies for downtown.

The area of E. 4th Street, just north of the Gateway complex, continually is highlighted as proof of Gateway’s success.

However, rarely do these glowing reports balance with the public costs. For example, the House of Blues on Euclid but part of the E. 4th development received financing, backed by the city to the tune of $12.8 million and a reduction in property tax value to other Euclid Avenue to help further subsidize East 4th Street.

Chris Warren, former Cleveland economic development chief now a consultant to the city, claimed that the city put more than $10 million in infrastructure, beautification, loans and tax credits into E. 4th.

However, massive subsidies often seem more to simply shift business from one part of downtown to another. The claims of major gains often really are simply location shifts in economic activity.

Right across the street from the E. 4th successes, the city’s grand architectural gem The Arcade, also heavily subsidized, has failed badly despite huge public investment: a $1 million low interest loan from the city; $2 million from Cuyahoga County; $7 million in property tax relief; a $7.1 million federal historic tax credit; a $9.6 million conservation easement donation; $1.5 million low interest loans from the Cleveland and Gund Foundations and $500,000 in other foundation loans. (Despite these subsidies a walk through The Arcade April 10 revealed it embarrassingly devoid of retail business with numerous vacancies)

(Similarly, the Halle’s building on Euclid, which received millions of dollars in subsidies and next to the Wyndham Hotel, recipient of more millions in government subsidies, was nearly devoid of retail, the space on its first floor given over to sections of cushioned chairs with a sign, “free spot” to sit. Retail had disappeared).

Maybe the best example of this misapplied credit goes to the late Dick Jacobs, owner of the Cleveland Indians when Gateway was constructed. Jacobs interests bought the old Cleveland Trust complex of buildings at E. 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, a couple of blocks from Gateway’s baseball stadium.

Surely, he expected new development there because of Gateway. However, we know that in 2005 he sold the empty complex of buildings to Cuyahoga County for $22 million. The County has held the land and endured heavy costs for a decade. The County now will build its offices there in what was once the financial center of Cleveland. (My jaunt downtown revealed that Euclid Ave., north of this area, not only is store after store mostly empty with doors chained locked and dirty windows to reveal debris inside from E. 12th to E. 9th. It has the look of abandonment. The south side has renovations proceeding. This, years after the heavy investment in public transportation on Euclid Ave.

Jacobs’s interests might also prove the economic activity can’t always be predicted. In the late 1980s Jacobs received heavy subsidies for the Public Square Marriott Hotel and Key Center – 100 percent tax abatement for 20 years worth more than $100 million and the city added $17 million in government loans at zero interest and the principal not payable for 20 years out.

Shortly after that Jacobs received from City Council the exact same sweet deal for another bank tower and Hyatt hotel on the west side of Public Square. A number of occupied buildings filled that space. They were emptied of tenants and demolished but neither bank building nor hotel has been built in the nearly 25 years since. The land remains a surface parking lot on city’s Public Square.

Downtown has become popularized by the movement of young people to the city’s center. This cannot be a bad thing.

However, too much emphasis has been given to large subsidies – as most new or converted housing is tax abated – as an equitable method of encouraging this movement. But the forgiven taxes must be made up by others city taxpayers who pay property taxes. Further, some of the conversions have been from office buildings where people formerly were employed.

No one seems to ask the major question: Who pays and who benefits?

We don’t know yet how much money the team owners and business community are putting into TV ads and other methods of pushing this new tax. The teams and corporates have met to petition black churches via Pastor and Mission. I’m told the ministers noticed that these people come when they need something. Another way they are reaching out in poverty areas is clearly shown by Angie Schmitt’s Rustwire blog piece with a dramatic photo of the cheap approach. She slams the hypocrisy hard.

With the sports teams the subsidies are clear in city after city. The owners and players benefit and the taxpayers mostly pay.

It’s time for a change and I would like to see Cleveland be strong and send the message out to other cities that there are more important things – say educating our children – than spending scarce public resources on wealthy sports owners and players.

My solution now would be to sell these sports facilities built with heavy public subsidies to the teams for $1 each. Then they could operate as most businesses do – by paying their own bills. They should now be on their own.

 

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Baltimore's Waterfront to Get Yet More Parking

Fancy office towers, hotels, museums, and tourist attractions line the contours of Baltimore’s Chesapeake Bay harborfront. So too, do massive parking garages and interstate-sized roadways that feed them. What does the future hold? According to a new plan, still more parking.

waterfront parking garage

One of several waterfront parking garages at Baltimore's harbor. All photos by author

Like much of America, Baltimore waterfront development since the age of cars has been designed for the age of cars. That looks likely to continue as the waterfront grows.

The Greater Baltimore Committee and Waterfront Partnership hired architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross to prepare Inner Harbor 2.0, an overarching new plan for reinvigorating Baltimore’s Inner Harbor waterfront.

The Director of Landscape Architecture for Ayers Saint Gross, Jonathon Ceci, said about a parcel of harborfront currently covered by beach volleyball courts, “The site is basically an island cut off from the rest of the Inner Harbor. Besides Key Highway [on one side], you’ve got the water [on the other side] and a lack of parking garages. The question was, how do you make it a magnet for urban activity?”

How does Ceci plan to create “a magnet for urban activity”? Apparently, with parking garages. The Inner Harbor 2.0 plan recommends a $20 million garage on this waterfront site at a public cost of $12-14 million.

Baltimoreans should question the line of thinking that big garages are the best magnets for urban activity. Big garages and wide roads go hand in hand. They create the “island effect” that Mr. Ceci wants to eliminate.

Baltimore’s near waterfront has more high-rise parking spaces than high-rise residential units with waterfront views. There are at least 6 waterfront parking garages, and at least 14 large parking garages within one block of the waterfront. At least 9 parking garages rise to between 7 and 12 stories tall. The waterfront has around 4,500 parking spaces already planned or under construction: 4,000 at the Horseshoe casino and about 500 at Rash field.

Meanwhile, the one-way street pairs adjacent to the harbor have 10 lanes of through traffic, while at many times, cars cannot make it through a light in one cycle. Baltimore has used these streets for 180-mile per hour races.

What Baltimore’s waterfront has gained by attracting tens of thousands of cars it might have lost by being unfriendly to pedestrians, bicyclists, urban livability, and more local populations. Walkers can enjoy a promenade ringing the water, but to venture inland, they have to cross many lanes of unfriendly traffic. These physical road barriers separate the water from Baltimore’s traditional downtown and may limit economic development from more easily sweeping inland.

A family racing to safety at Baltimore's Harbor

Ironically, all the car infrastructure may not make car driving easy. Supersized roads and garages contribute to congestion that can offset cars’ theoretical time-saving advantages. Driving across town and up and down garages sometimes is slower than walking and bicycling. The business case for more parking erodes if corresponding congestion leads to traffic jams and stress.

Lombard Street

Rush hour traffic near Baltimore's Inner Harbor

By adding four high frequency Charm City Circulator bus routes, Baltimore has made progress. It can do much more to shift the balance.

Here are some additional ideas to consider near the waterfront:

  • Create an app that directs cars to affordable satellite parking spaces.
  • Create a tax on new parking garages and dedicate the revenue to non-automotive transportation.
  • Let developers choose to pay into an alternative transportation fund instead of building parking as required by zoning.
  • Encourage parking at outlying transit stations that serve downtown.
  • Re-introduce and enforce bus-only lanes downtown.
  • Create peripheral park & ride lots with frequently departing shuttles servicing downtown, similar to the way airport shuttles work.
  • Create iconic Inner Harbor bus shelters.
  • Operate Camden Line trains on weekends for special events and Orioles games.
  • Ask the Orioles to reward fans for not bringing a car.
  • Create a discounted MTA family pass.
  • Ask downtown employers to create financial incentives for employees to not bring a car.
  • Build Pratt Street and Key Highway cycletracks to support bicyclists and bikeshare.
  • Add Charm City Circulator routes to South Baltimore, Canton, the Casino parking garage, and new park & ride locations.
  • Make sure the east-west Red Line moves forward.

Baltimore’s waterfront must be accessible to people who own cars. However, with more affordable, safe, and convenient alternatives, some drivers would be happy to visit the city’s downtown waterfront, while leaving the car outside of the city center.

Jeff La Noue

Similar version of article cross-posted on Comeback City

 

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Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati and Recovery from the Recession

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland just released a report showing economic data from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati. The idea was to track how these three cities are recovering from the recession.

Here’s the three area’s employment rates, before the recession and currently.

So Pittsburgh is the big outlier here. It’s recession was way less bad than the other two cities, in terms of unemployment and it’s back to pre-recession levels, something the other two cities are nowhere near. The Federal Reserve researchers do note that Pittsburgh’s employment appears to have leveled off, unfortunately.

Pittsburgh’s unemployment is better than the state and nation, while Cleveland and Cincinnati’s are much worse.

One thing Cleveland researcher Joel Elvery (an old professor of mine) notes, is that Cleveland’s employment rate has been growing at a pretty healthy clip lately. That is a big relief, he says, because after the last recession, around 2001, the local economy never really recovered the lost jobs. He said this was due to growing demand for exports and recovery in manufacturing.

One other thing that the Fed said that was interesting about Cleveland is that one of the fastest growing sectors this year has been hospitality — because

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of the casino they said and new hotels.

What’s interesting to note also though is that GDP has mostly recovered for Cincinnati and Cleveland but employment hasn’t kept pace. These are GDP:

Even Pittsburgh, GDP is still growing strong, but employment has leveled off.

— Angie Schmitt

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Is Cleveland Strong?

This picture just blows my mind.

This is a sign encouraging people to renew the “sin tax” in Cuyahoga County, a tax on alcohol and cigarettes that subsidizes pro sports teams.

This was taken in East Cleveland. Paid supporters of the “sin tax” have been plastering Cleveland’s vacant lots with these signs, urging people to “Keep Cleveland Strong” by renewing the tax.

Keep Cleveland Strong. Man, the gall behind that statement.

That’s the narrative Cleveland’s political and business establishment is always pushing. I heard someone from this campaign say if Cleveland’s sports stadiums start to fall into disrepair, it will damage Cleveland’s reputation as a “comeback city.” As if people are going to travel here, ignore the state of our roads, schools and houses, and judge us for the speed of the escalators at the Q.

Sometimes I need to ask myself, are we talking about the same city? Cleveland lost 17 percent of its population between 2000 and 2010. Some neighborhoods — like Hough and Glenville — lost an astounding 38 percent of their population between 2000 and 2007.

I know what they’re getting at here with “Keep Cleveland Strong.” A lot of people feel hopeful about the region. Downtown Cleveland has gained population. There is some new development taking place in urban neighborhoods like Ohio City. If you conscientiously avoid the areas of the city some people conscientiously avoid — like the one in the photo — maybe the city does seem strong.

But the data paints a pretty bleak picture. A majority of Cleveland children — 54% — live in poverty. Our population numbers are appalling, only Detroit and Youngstown are really in the same league in terms of population decline. Both lost about 25 percent of their population between 2000 and 2010. About 13 percent of the city of Cleveland holds a college degree, that’s compared with more than 30 percent in both Cincinnati and Columbus.

Even downtown Cleveland’s residential population growth — the encouraging sign these campaigns are based on — isn’t without its downside for the region. Downtown’s residential population growth was made possible by vacant office spaces — solid, high-paying jobs that sprawled away or disappeared. We are constantly being told how low the residential vacancy rate in downtown Cleveland is, but nobody is talking about the office vacancy rate, and that would be interesting to know, as well.

But the political and business establishment has no interest in advertising data that might point to their failures.  Sometimes I feel like there is a conspiracy to present Cleveland is a positive light by a lot of people. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If Cleveland isn’t “strong” who is to blame?

Do our population numbers justify a housecleaning? If more people better understood them, they might. So information that paints Cleveland’s situation negatively is brushed aside, because it’s threatening, in my opinion.

Clevelanders are deliberately presented with positive news: a new restaurant opened! but deliberately shielded from negative news. I have a friend, an engaged well educated friend, who assured me recently that “Cleveland IS growing.” She was honestly convinced that Cleveland is growing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cleveland is one of the fastest shrinking cities in the country. Between 2000 and 2010 every neighborhood in the city lost population except downtown. Even the inner ring suburbs are shrinking.

Critically, what the political leadership and business establishment are proposing is that we do the same thing we have been doing for a long time — extend a 20-year tax. So they must argue that things are going well — it worked the first time. Cleveland is “strong” but could become weak if we don’t act!

Cleveland’s political and business establishment has for decades been focused on stabilizing downtown. Presenting it as a pretty face for tourists. It makes sense on some levels. So many of our big public economic development campaigns have been focused on downtown. These stadiums are a perfect example. And downtown is doing ok, great even, you might say.

But to me, it seems so obvious that these “trickle down” economic development proposals — sports stadiums, conventions centers — aren’t “trickling down” more broadly. The health of downtown might not have a lot to do with the health of Hough or East Cleveland. The picture says it all.

A more cynical person might even suggest these kinds of economic policies have contributed to the wealth inequality and staggering poverty we have here.

Regardless of whether the sin tax “Keeps Cleveland Strong,” it will certainly contribute to wealth inequality in our region. The three biggest beneficiaries are the owners. Dan Gilbert alone is worth $3.6 billion. The people who will pay the highest price are low-income Cuyahoga County residents. Half of smokers make less than $25,000 a year.

Maybe it’s time to reevaluate some economic policies that helped produce a MAJORITY childhood poverty rate, nearly a fifth of the population leaving in a single decade.

That question of whether or not Cleveland is strong really makes all the difference. That’s why the existing leadership has such a high stake in convincing us that it is. Is it working?

–Angie Schmitt

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An Art Gallery and Neighborhood Change

Right now I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a neighborhood called Northside. Its about a 15-minute drive north of downtown. From my bedroom window I can see a pizza place, hair salon, a couple tax centers, a rad art-collective-space called Chase Public, and a boutique shop Ill never venture into. I think if I lean I can see a chile place on the corner. Largely, the area is populated by long-time locals, but many (like myself) have moved here after a bit of redevelopment and renewal. While this renewal, on the economic side of things, is almost entirely beneficial to the city, there comes with it a necessary conversation about the appropriation (accidental or not) of an already-existent culture. The result is a hodgepodge of establishments peppering Northsides business district.

Northside Cincinnati via Wikipedia

 

Whats striking about this glass-paned landscape is this: the places we might think of as being an agent (or a result) of gentrification last when they exist self-consciously and are aware of their environment and very act of replacing. Though they are accused of invading, of not understanding or respecting their environment (either spatial or temporal) or adjusting to it, of being culturally parasitic, my argument is that they actually understand and respect it better than most. For instance: the art space exists, along with the few other galleries in Northside, knowing it might well be temporary. Knowing they might run out of funds by the years end. Knowing something else, some other project, might soon exist in their physical and metaphorical place.

But this isnt pessimism its embrace. Hell, its romantic, isnt it? Like the wise neighbor whose view of death is sparkling and worriless. The tax centers, too, embrace and even operate around this acknowledged impermanence. Thats what they do. The places that Ive seen close up are often restaurants the common victim of entrepreneurship.

A new fancy eatery down the street, Bistro Grace, does not follow these ideals. Northside is an area of largely middle- or lower-class people, including myself, who cant regularly (or even rarely) afford to eat at overly expensive restaurants Bistro Grace is exactly that. Eating there, therefore, is not really available to Northsiders, and this seems very wrong to me. How permanent can we expect this place to be? How much about the area does this place appear to understand or respect? Its important to remember that art galleries, on the other hand, are not only free to enjoy, but do not truly expect to make much money in the long-run. This is another element to their impermanence, and something that I think embraces areas like Northside with both their monetary accessibility and their curating of local artists. This, to me, is a smart way to encourage regionalism and the pride native to it.

So my question is this: why look at these galleries as gentrification? Why not embrace their impermanence and availability as they do? The majority of the Rust Belts fall (arguably, sure) was based on a false permanence and a lack of adaptation, but these houses of art have learned from those mistakes; an act which, to me, is the greatest and most useful form of respect. In this way, these spaces and places are not only bringing life back into the hollows, not only creating urban renewal and reasons for both locals and tourists to visit an area and feel a sense of pride (and to, in turn, contribute to its redevelopment and growth), they are also showing us they know their place in history, however fleeting.

C.J. Opperthauser

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The Big Road Solution: A Critical Look at the Opportunity Corridor

The Opportunity Corridor is a $331 million road through the east side of Cleveland that has been presented to residents as an economic development project. The residents of these neighborhoods, such as Kinsman, are struggling with poverty (median household income $13,300) and serious health issues, including high rates of asthma and infant mortality rates worse than Zimbabwe.

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) believes that neighborhoods have declined due to poor highway access, stating “by the middle of the 20th century, trucking had become more prominent in transporting industrial goods. This shift resulted in local businesses leaving in search of locations with better access to the interstate highway system, enhanced visibility and new infrastructure to support their business needs.”

This is in contrast to the reality that decades of disinvestment, redlining and abandonment followed by demolition and fire have resulted in many vacant lots and economic decline throughout neighborhoods. To get residents on board with their project, ODOT and the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), Cleveland’s chamber of commerce, told residents in a series of public meetings that the project would create 10,000 permanent jobs.

This statement was made after the City of Cleveland had estimated only 1,600 jobs. Furthermore, after the presentations GCP funded an economic development study that found it would only create about 2,340 jobs. Basically, GCP went into low income neighborhoods that have experienced decades of disinvestment and promised an absurd number of jobs in order to get community support for their road project with no accountability. This alone should raise red flags.

The real barrier to economic Development is brownfield remediation and low interest loans. Businesses in the area, such as Miceli’s Cheese, were able to expand only after qualifying for low interest loans and grants that were used to clean up the brownfields. The Phalen Boulevard, a project said to be a model for the Opportunity Corridor, had years of brownfield remediation and anchoring tenants before it was built, but there is no brownfield remediation in the current Opportunity Corridor proposal.

The Phalen Boulevard also had no residential houses that had to be taken, whereas Opportunity Corridor has estimated that 74 residential and 44 commercial structures will need to be taken. It’s a slap in the face that “fair market value” will be paid to residents when market values have declined so much and many elderly residents already have their houses paid off. ODOT plans to provide only $52,000 maximum to residents to relocate.

Furthermore, ODOT openly states that the Opportunity Corridor would “result in disproportionately high and adverse impacts to low income and minority populations” and has only offered 2 pedestrian bridges, a voluntary residential relocation program, and a half million dollars to the Woodland Recreation Center.  The half million dollars given to the rec center represents less than one-tenth of one percent (about .0015%) of the project’s budget.  ODOT should be ashamed for the lack of community benefits given that this is such a large scale project.  City of Cleveland officials should be more vocal in obtaining improved community benefits for displaced residents and for the neighborhoods that will be divided by the corridor.

Another barrier to economic development is transportation. Over 40% of households in Kinsman do not have access to a car, and the corridor does nothing to improve public transportation, in fact it will create large walls around the East 55th street rapid station, which will decrease pedestrian access. In a recent Interview by Michael McGraw in the Cleveland Street Chronicle, Norman Krumholz, Planning Director of the City from 1969-1979 and professor of Urban Affairs at CSU, was asked what could be added to the Opportunity Corridor to benefit public transit users. Krumholz replied, “They could use the present configuration so that bus lines would be able to transverse the present proposal. Or, better yet, they could forget about the Opportunity Corridor entirely, and use existing streets, and connect more closely with existing public transit, and redevelopment efforts in the existing neighborhoods.”

For example – instead of using the Opportunity Corridor, which is supposed to cost maybe $350 million, that is an early estimate, it’ll probably run over $400 million by the time it’s done, they could simply improve the route from the hub at E. 55th St.” Krumholz recommendations are similar to an alternative to improve Woodland Ave that was removed in the early planning stages when no residents were involved in the initial planning. Per ODOT, “In the early planning stage, the committee was made up mostly of business, political and transportation agency representatives and leaders of Community Development Corporations.” In fact, ODOT was sued by South Euclid Councilman Marty Gelfand to “find out how and why ODOT District 12 came to select that route and what, if any alternatives were proposed, especially the Woodland Avenue alternative.” Obviously, ODOT and GCP could do a better job of being transparent.

Norman Krumholz suggested above that the corridor should not even be built, which begs the question is this project still relevant in 2014? People are driving less (Vehicle Miles Traveled has been declining for nearly a decade) and a new innerbelt bridge is going to be finished soon which will handle more traffic. There are also current plans to redesign the 5-points intersection of E. 55th St and Kinsman road, which would make the Woodland alternative worth reconsidering, especially if public input is actually taken into account.

Furthermore, why build a road to University Circle when there is already a traffic problem? Chris Ronayne, current president of University Circle Incorporated (UCI), recently stated “One-third bike, one-third transit and one-third auto is the commuting goal into University Circle. That’s a reasonable objective.” So the president of UCI is calling for reduced auto traffic in University Circle, while the Opportunity Corridor will create physical walls around transit stations and instead create new infrastructure to bring more traffic to University Circle. Is this really the best use of public funds? I don’t think it is, and recommend that the Opportunity Corridor be reevaluated with more transparency, honesty, and accountability.

You can read my complete report at http://eatrighteous.org/opportunitycorridor/

 

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Tolerating Hate Speech and Misogyny on the News Websites

My friend, a beautiful, intelligent native American woman, wrote a column this weekend in the Plain Dealer explaining why she thinks the Indians’ Chief Wahoo is offensive. It was brave, and respectful and well written.

To the surprise of no one, the comments section immediately devolved into a cesspool ignorance and depravity that has come to characterize commentary on local news issues — particularly when there is a woman or minority concerned.

 

Here’s another gem:

And another:

I was all ready to report the first comment comment, but there didn’t seem to be a way to do it on the site run by the Northeast Ohio Media Group. A lot of times it seems like, if it wasn’t for this type of fifth, there would scarcely be any comments at all. This type of language — hate speech, misogyny — is not just tolerated by this company, I think, it’s part of what it trades in.

I wrote a couple columns for the Plain Dealer, this same kind, unpaid. Both times some genius replied by telling me “not to get my panties in a wad.”

The Plain Dealer has a “community rules” policy where they specifically ban hateful speech. But the company devotes zero effort to enforcing it. In fact, hateful speech is what the comments boards are known for.

They cater to bigots, at the expense of large portions of the community and at the expense of common decency.

Here’s Northeast Ohio Media Group’s bro-in-chief Brandon Blackwell responding to commenters who complained about the paper’s use of the term “hate crime,” a term commenters feel is unfair to white men.

That Blackwell even feels compelled to respond at all to commenters complaining that the paper used to term “hate crime” is telling. And Blackwell wants them to know it’s not their term and that they don’t “market” the type of idea — the widely accepted idea that certain marginalized groups could be targeted for violence and that is extra bad. That’s what the Plain Dealer is careful not to “market.”

Though both the author Mark Naymik and Brandon Blackwell commented on the article and were apparently moderating the discussion, here’s two comments they apparently left standing because they felt were a-ok, no need to respond in any way:

And another:

Scene, Cleveland’s alternative weekly, is just as guilty. Here’s a comment posted about Kelly Blazek, the owner of a local jobs board.

By the way, I complained to the publisher about that comment a month ago, and it still stands. Apparently any woman who becomes the subject of a news article, whether male readers would allow them to perform certain sex acts on them is totally fair game,

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the kind of thing anyone is welcome to publish on Scene’s website.

These publications are making a choice about whose opinion matters, who deserves to be treated with respect — the answer is bigots and bullies. When the Plain Dealer and Scene allow this type of speech to be published a widely-read platform they maintain, they tacitly condone it and profit from it. It’s a really, really bad thing for our community.

But it would be easy to fix. It would just take some minor fixes for these publications to develop a culture that promoted tolerance and welcomed all perspectives — even — gasp! — women from minority groups. The first thing these websites should do, in my opinion, is install a a “Report hate speech” button on every comment, like Facebook does, to allow readers to report this type of trash. Readers can report this stuff, an editor can spend 5% of his time reviewing flagged comments. Problem solved. Respectability restored.

What they’ve done instead, is set the lowest possible standards for their website and helped produce an ugly and embarrassing forum that hurts Northeast Ohio.

It’s way past time we demanded better from them.

–Angie Schmitt

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