Heart to Heart: Move the Stadium; Gain a Dome

This week there was a lot of talk about the Cleveland Browns new owner Jimmy Haslam III and his desire to place a retractable roof over current Cleveland Browns Stadium. I personally feel that is the wrong path for the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Browns to take. Here, we will look at the economics in layman’s terms. The current stadium as it stands, and as it is used, is an economic drain on the City of Cleveland. Many in the city would agree the most valuable property in the city is its lakefront. Some say it is the key to growing the city into a destination city. The city recently opened Ohio’s first casino near the Gateway Complex and in 2013 will open a new convention center and medical mart. While these new facilities are wonderful for the city and will hopefully contribute daily to the economic impact of the city and region there is a larger building the city needs to consider dealing with; Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Browns Stadium is used approximately 12 times per year: ten Browns games, an annual Kenny Chesney concert, and a high school football showcase in the fall. What happens at the stadium the other 353 days per year? Nothing. The stadium sits empty. While I agree adding a retractable roof to the stadium would be a good idea considering the climate we live in it is not a good idea for the current Browns Stadium.

Here are a few reasons:

  1. The stadium is in the wrong location. This week it was revealed that former Browns owner Art Modell may - or may not, depending on whom you believe - have been offered a site for a football stadium south of the current Gateway Complex that houses the Cavaliers and Indians. That site, if still available, is where the next Browns Stadium should be located.
  2. Adding a retractable roof to the current stadium will cost about $120 million. That $120 million dollar figure is from 2009, but I am guessing that figure at this point is closer to $140 or $180 million dollars. I have nothing to back my numbers up with other than the fact that nothing gets cheaper. If the city, which owns the stadium, is going to pay that type of money for a roof they should just build a new stadium.
  3. The current stadium is in a terrible location. Do you know how long it takes to walk from Progressive Field or Quicken Loans Arena to a bar, hotel, or E 4th street? About four minutes. The same walk from Browns Stadium would take at least fifteen. The stadium needs to be located near hotels and Cleveland’s new casino.
  4. Browns Stadium opened in 1999, which makes the stadium 13 years old. The city could spend money to renovate the stadium in the next seven years, which I would normally be for, but 10 to 15 years after that the Browns will be looking for a new facility. Save time, money, and aggravation and spend or start saving that money now to build a first class facility in the next ten years.
  5. It is time to do lakefront development the right way. The city, county, and port authority have been trying to develop the lakefront into useable economic space for the 30 years and have not been able to do so because Browns Stadium and Burke Lakefront Airport occupy so much space. This is the perfect opportunity to relieve them of one of those obstacles. The stadium no longer serves a purpose on the lakefront.

Here is comes the hard part for Browns fans. What I am about to say will not be pretty. The stadium is about more than the team that is currently playing there. I know Browns fans love to have their team play outside in the swirling wind in the November and December, but be real; it does not matter the weather the team is playing in because they have not been good since 1999. It is time to build a stadium that can serve the city more than 12 times per year.

There is the potential that city can host political conventions, NCAA Final Fours, bigger concerts, and a Super Bowl. Sure, with a retractable roof the current stadium cold host each of those, but you have no guarantee it will happen. Building a new stadium would guarantee the city could host at least one Super Bowl. If Cleveland can manage a Super Bowl the way Indianapolis did, then we could guarantee multiple Super Bowls will be hosted in Cleveland. Lastly, as much as you might like or have an emotional connection to the current stadium, it is not awesome.

The city and the county built three stadiums in the 90s and only built one of them right; Progressive Field. The other two are a joke. Value City Arena, a college arena, is head and shoulders above any other indoor facility in the state and Nationwide Arena is second. Both are in Columbus. Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati and Ohio Stadium in Columbus both are both better facilities than Browns Stadium in fan amenities and viewing angles. None has faulty plumbing or cement that needs to be replaced after just  13 years of light use.

Mr. Haslam wants to sell the naming rights for the stadium, and he should, but he should not be allowed to use that money to pay off his debt for buying the team. He should put that money aside to pay for a new stadium. The New England Patriots financed Gillette Stadium on their own and there is no reason the Browns cannot do the same thing. While I personally do not see a scenario where that would happen in Cleveland, the city or county should not be forced to “loan” the Browns any more than 10-20% of the total cost of the stadium including infrastructure costs.

A problem the Browns will have is that under the current collective bargaining agreement, the National Football League no longer offers to finance stadium construction as it did when current Browns Stadium was built. What does that mean for Browns fans? Yep; ticket price increases, a renewal of the sin tax that is set to expire in 2015, an increase in county sales tax, and an increase in hotel bed taxes. If the city were to put a dome over the current stadium, any combination of those would have to be raised or extended to pay for the dome. Why not just build a new stadium in 10 years and do it right this time?

Do you think I am crazy for wanting a new stadium that the city can use more than 12 times per year while giving up the valuable lakefront up for development? Or do you think I’m crazy because I’m willing to wait a decade for the new stadium. Tell me about it in the comments section.

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