The Cleveland Plain Dealer has historically not been a very good newspaper in covering stadium development issues, taking local sports team demands seriously even when they want to do things like cover their stadium with a geodesic dome, and generally giving Roldo Bartimole an entire career of shaking his head sadly at their miserable reportage.
None of that, though, prepared anyone for this editorial published on Friday, which argues that it’s totally worth Cuyahoga County giving Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert $70 million to pay half the costs of an arena expansion because, well, let’s try to follow along:
[Do you remember] the payoff when LeBron James electrified the city and team by coming back and helping to deliver an NBA championship in a never-to-be-forgotten, come-from-behind series? A series that turned downtown Cleveland into a sea of ecstatic fans and led to a victory parade that attracted Cavs fans the world over for a glorious day of downtown pedestrian gridlock that banished our comeback doubts.
Yes, winning championships is fun. Gilbert doesn’t get to rescind that championship if his renovation isn’t approved. So, what’s your point again?
How much would it be worth to get even more economic development value from the money the public already has invested in Quicken Loans Arena — the jobs, the energy, the draw — by extending the life of the Q another dozen years or more?
An excellent question, though posed a bit strangely — the only thing threatening “the life of the Q” is the city and county’s eventual willingness to replace it, so it’s not like that decision is really hanging on a new glass exterior wall. But sure, it’s a calculation that should be conducted, ideally with studies and tax revenue projections and—
It’s certainly worth the deal on the table now in which the Cavs pay half and make other commitments to the county, city and region.
Or you could just say “You betcha!!!” Yup, that is also an option.
As part of the deal, the Cavs pony up $122 million of their own dollars (for an arena the public owns) and underwrite risk in the financing deal for the county and agree to stay in Cleveland until at least 2034.
Yeah, no, not exactly. That $122 million isn’t in cash but in increased future rent payments, which will reimburse the county for half the $140 million in renovation costs, leaving the other $70 million to be covered by ticket taxes and hotel taxes that would otherwise go into city and county coffers. Yes, the public owns the arena, but only on paper so Gilbert doesn’t have to pay property taxes. (He owns the revenue streams from the arena, which are the important part.) I have no idea what “underwrite risk” means, other than that Gilbert would over cost overruns, which, that’s all well and good, but he’d still get his $70 million in free money regardless.
The only real reason worth considering here is getting Gilbert to extend the Cavs lease to 2034, when it currently expires in … 2027. So that’s seven years of added lease time, in exchange for $70 million in renovation subsidies. We have seen worse deals, but that doesn’t necessarily make this a good one.
The Q is a city treasure that goes far beyond its use by the basketball team.
How many of the region’s children have been wowed there by Mickey Mouse on ice skates, circuses and monster truck shows? How many people have danced in the aisles to the performances of Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Jay Z, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce? We want those acts to keep coming.
Now we’re getting deep into crazy talk, and not just because Paul McCartney is going to be 92 years old in 2034. Does the PD editorial board really think that Mickey Mouse is going to refuse to lace up his skates and play Cleveland if the arena doesn’t have a new glass wall in front? Have they bothered to investigate what concert acts want out of an arena? Or is investigation one of those old-media things that fly in the face of synergy and monetization and whatever else the things that used to be called newspapers are in the business of now?
All in all, this editorial can be summed up as: Arenas are fun places, is $70 million really too much to spend on more fun? To which the answer should be: We dunno, let’s check it out. That’s what the Detroit Free Press did when Gilbert came asking for cash for an MLS stadium in that city; clearly either the billionaire has greater pull in Cleveland, or the Plain Dealer editors have forgotten Rule #1 of journalism.