Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam met earlier this week with Cleveland and Cuyahoga County leaders for a conversation about the city’s lakefront.
The Haslams dined Monday evening at the Shoreby Club in Bratenahl with Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne, City Council President Blaine Griffin, County Council President Pernel Jones Jr. and staffers.
Representatives for the team and the mayor’s office confirmed to Signal Cleveland that the meeting occurred.
The team owners and government leaders huddled as the Bibb administration builds public support for a new lakefront development plan – and while the city and the Browns discuss a renewal of the NFL franchise’s lease.
By virtue of its dominant position on the downtown lakefront, the city-owned Browns Stadium would be a centerpiece of any development there.
The Haslams have said they’d like a substantial renovation of the stadium as part of a new lease and broader vision for the lakefront. In late July, they told reporters the team won’t leave Northeast Ohio, saying their “preference” is to remain on the Lake Erie shore.
After his State of the City speech this year, Bibb said he sees the stadium as a piece of a larger lakefront plan. The mayor added that he wants to protect the city’s general fund from stadium maintenance costs, preferring to “think differently” about paying for the facility.
Cleveland hired the New York-based consultant James Corner Field Operations to develop a master plan for the lakefront. The plan, revealed in draft form in July, calls for a beach and commercial and residential development around the stadium. A land bridge – long desired by local leaders – would connect the lakefront to the downtown grassy malls.
Bibb has also proposed a new development authority to oversee the lakefront. Although Ronayne supports the idea, County Council has given it a chillier reception. County Council members have said they want more county government representation on the new body, among other concerns.
It is not certain how close the Haslams and local leaders are to a lease deal that pieces together a stadium renovation with lakefront development. Also unanswered is another key question: Who will pay?
Currently, the city draws on a countywide alcohol and cigarette tax to pay for stadium repairs. Cleveland uses a variety of citywide taxes – including on parking and admissions – to pay off the debt from building the 24-year-old facility.
A Signal Cleveland analysis found that the city’s financial obligations at the stadium have totaled more than $300 million since the Browns returned in 1999. The Browns have said the team has invested $154 million since the Haslams became owners in 2012.