Council President Blaine Griffin wants to shake up how Cleveland does business with developers who receive city tax breaks and other incentives.
Griffin and Ward 14 Council Member Jasmin Santana will introduce legislation Monday spelling out the types of community benefits that developers will be expected to offer, from mentorship programs to resident-employment goals.
The proposal moves through council with major projects either underway or in development. The new Sherwin-Williams headquarters is rising in downtown Cleveland with the help of millions of dollars in city incentives. Looming Browns lease negotiations are expected to touch on renovations to the city-owned FirstEnergy Stadium.
“What we’re trying to do is create a win-win for everybody: for the developers, for the community, for the labor groups, for the Black, minority contractors, Hispanic contractors, female contractors and most of all for Cleveland,” Griffin told Signal Cleveland. “Because it’s getting harder and harder to sell these big-ticket projects if people don’t see that they’re getting a return on their investment.”
Council is also taking up legislation to put an issue on the November ballot amending contractor requirements that are written into the city charter.
The legislation lays out a list of community benefit requirements for developers who receive at least $250,000 in taxpayer financial assistance.
On the list are:
- Developing a plan to meet participation goals for minority-owned, women-owned or Cleveland-area contractors
- Drawing up a plan to meet resident and low-income employment goals set by the city for the project
- Participating in mentor-protege programs
- Offering apprenticeship and internship opportunities for Cleveland residents
- Committing to meet regularly with community stakeholders
- Providing quarterly reports to the city
If a project costs at least $20 million overall, the legislation asks developers and city departments to work additional benefits into the contract. Those options include hosting job fairs, doing neighborhood infrastructure work and offering joint-venture opportunities to women- and minority-owned firms.
The measure directs Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration to create a public dashboard of community benefits statistics. The numbers on the board must include the revenue directed toward women- or minority-owned businesses and revenue to Cleveland residents, parsed by race and gender.
“This legislation opens the door to real progress on improving the community benefit agreements process here in Cleveland,” Marie Zickefoose, the mayor’s press secretary, wrote to Signal Cleveland. “We look forward to working with council to pass this first step and to developing the rules and regulations that will bring it to life to ensure that future projects drive meaningful and tangible benefits for Cleveland residents.”
The city regularly offers incentives such as tax-increment financing to help developers pay for construction projects. These incentives allow developers to redirect new property-tax revenues to paying off project-related debt.
But the Bibb administration has lately shown more willingness to question whether those deals are paying off.
“You can’t spend half a billion dollars on economic development and not move the bar for anybody, for the people in this community,” Economic Development Director Tessa Jackson said during budget hearings last month.
This story has been updated with a comment from the mayor’s office.