Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
The Cleveland Cavaliers are seeking additional upgrades and repairs at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Their requests will be discussed at the next meeting of the Gateway Economic Development Corp., the nonprofit that manages the facility on behalf of taxpayers. Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

The Cleveland Cavaliers will soon run out of sin tax money to fund repairs at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the chairman of the nonprofit that oversees the sports facility said Wednesday. 

Gateway Economic Development Corporation distributes cigarette and alcohol tax dollars for repairs at the arena and Progressive Field on behalf of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. 

The NBA franchise is asking Gateway to approve $28 million to replace the arena’s elevators and escalators and upgrade the broadcast control room. But the team has only $10 million left of its cut of the sin tax, Gateway Chairman Ken Silliman told team officials at a board meeting Wednesday. 

“That means that someone – city, county, state, whoever – is going to have to come up with a new funding source not identified previously to cover the cost of this,” he said.

Gateway’s board will consider the request again at a meeting in August. 

Cuyahoga County first approved the sin tax to fund construction of the then-named Gund Arena and Jacobs Field in the early 1990s. They renewed the tax in 2014 to pay for major repairs at all three of Cleveland’s major-league facilities. 

The Browns, Cavaliers and now-named Guardians split the windfall three ways, meaning each facility would receive $92 million for repairs over the 20 year lifespan of the tax. Cuyahoga County borrowed against future tax proceeds to provide more cash up front for repairs. 

The Cavaliers have already spent $82 million of their share of the sin tax, leaving just $10 million remaining, Silliman said. 

The city and county helped pay for a major overhaul at what was then Quicken Loans Arena in 2017. But team officials said on Wednesday that parts of the facility untouched by renovations are now long out of date. 

The elevators and escalators are 29 years old and at the end of their useful lives, Cavaliers Vice President for Venue Operations Antony Bonavita wrote the Gateway board in a letter. The cost for replacing them is estimated at $9.8 million. Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is one of the most booked venues in the country and, as a result, Bonavita said, experiences a lot of wear and tear.

The broadcast control room still contains technology dating back to 1994, when the arena was built, Bonavita told the board on Wednesday. Another team official said manufacturers no longer make replacement parts for the control room, meaning the Cavaliers have had to buy supplies on eBay. Control room work will cost $18.4 million. 

Gateway does not oversee Browns stadium, which is owned directly by the City of Cleveland. City officials and the team have been discussing a lease renewal, which may come with a major stadium renovation. The building has cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars to build and repair, a Signal Cleveland analysis found.

Silliman acknowledged that the Cavaliers have spent their own money on the arena over the years, including by funding part of the 2017 renovations. Excluding those costs, the team has spent $154 million on the facility since 2006, Bonavita wrote in his letter to the board. 

“It’s an arms race every day,” Bonavita said, “and we’ve got to make sure that we try to stay relevant.”

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio, where he has 10 years' experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Last year he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.