For Cleveland to Get a Fair Deal, Haslam Needs to Build His Own Home for the Browns

Cleveland's North Harbor In September, I wrote about the need for a new stadium for the Cleveland Browns and moving its location from the lakefront. Nothing has changed my mind since September, but now I know the city still owes about $160 million in bond payments on the stadium, and those are not set to expire until the end of 2027. We all know there is no way Jimmy Haslam will stay in current Cleveland Browns Stadium until 2027. In fact, if he were smart he’d get out of that dump in the next eight years. The only way for him to possibly build a new stadium before the bonds expire in 2027 is to either ask voters to extend the sin tax or build the stadium himself.

When the citizens of Cuyahoga County voted to extend the sin tax in 1995 to build a new football stadium, the deal left the City of Cleveland holding the bag for all expenses and left it little room to generate any revenue in return. In fact, the city is allowed to only host about 10 events per year in a stadium it owns and maintains at its own expense. The Browns keep all revenue from tickets, concessions, parking and advertisement in the stadium for any other events.

When the Browns and Jimmy Haslam decide it is time to replace their stadium they should do so on their own dime or give the voters more control over its facility. The sin tax should not be the burden of Cuyahoga County voters alone, but should extend to contiguous counties. It is unfair that those of us who live in the county are the only ones who are responsible for the payment of the stadium when many non-Cuyahoga County residents attend games.

The other scenario is one in which I fully support, that Haslam and the Browns build and pay for the stadium themselves with minor infrastructure contributions from a city or county. I personally am not in favor of building another stadium without a dome of some kind, or a facility that sits on city’s prime lakefront real estate. Since there is no other space large enough downtown to build the stadium without tearing down the city’s precious historic buildings, that means that Haslam will - and should - build the stadium outside of downtown.

clemapJosh (@RailbirdJ) and I have discussed this many times, and I think we both generally agree the best area for the stadium would be somewhere along the I-71 corridor near the airport and turnpike or, as an alternate location, somewhere along I-77. This new facility does not need to be in Cuyahoga County or the City of Cleveland.

NEWSFLASH: That is not downtown, nor is it near the lake, but in the end the city and the region is better if the stadium is not in either place. Most people who attend Browns games are in and out of downtown as soon as the game is over and do not shop, stop at bars, or go to the casino.

As foreign as this concept may sound there is an NFL team that built its own stadium not near the cityy's core; The New England Patriots. Do you know how far Gillette Stadium is from Fenway? Thirty miles. Do you know how much impact it has on the economic growth of the team and downtown Boston? Zero

Robert Kraft built his own stadium after coming to an agreement with Foxborough and he controls the stadium, its maintenance and its events. He keeps the revenue from tickets, parking, and concessions. The city of Foxborough collects taxes on each and is not responsible for any stadium maintenance.

Browns fans, while this deal might sound a lot like what the Gund brothers did with the Cavaliers in Richfield, it isn’t. Traffic infrastructure is better and everyone knows the region will support the Browns over the Cavaliers any day.

Do I have faith that current regional leadership will make this deal happen? Of course not, so I guess all of this is just a pipe dream. Think about what I have said though, if you are going to build and pay for a stadium that will likely cost upwards of $500 million, shouldn’t the owners at least have a say in its operations and benefit from its revenue?

If Haslam wants to be a good civic partner, either he will pay for the entire facility using private dollars or he’ll shoulder upwards of 80% of the debt. At this point, it is the only fair thing to do.

Photo courtesy of Tom Baker (@mylifeinhdr) on Flickr.