Progressive Field, the home of the Cleveland Guardians.
Progressive Field, the home of the Cleveland Guardians. Credit: Erin Woisnet for Signal Cleveland

Rising construction costs are eating away at the taxpayer budget for Progressive Field repairs. 

That was the warning issued Wednesday by the chair of the Gateway Economic Development Corporation, which owns the home of the Cleveland Guardians and approves publicly funded work there. 

Case in point: Gateway has signed off on $40 million so far to replace seats at the ballpark. That’s more than double the original cost estimates, according to board chair Ken Silliman. 

For now, the public has the money to foot the bill, Silliman said. But the costs will catch up with taxpayers eventually.

“We’re going to feel that pain down the road,” he said after the board’s meeting Wednesday.

The Guardians’ 15-year lease extension in 2022 put Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and the State of Ohio on the hook for more than $18 million annually at the ballpark. That money helps to pay for a major overhaul of Progressive Field – plus the facility’s ongoing repair needs. 

The ball club pays for one third of the $202.5 million overhaul and handles cost overruns. But regular repairs at Progressive Field fall entirely on Gateway – and therefore on taxpayers. 

Currently, Gateway is dipping into pots of city and county money to pay its ballpark costs. The list includes the sin tax on alcohol and cigarettes, part of the county bed tax and half of the city admission tax collected at the ballpark. 

Silliman suggested the public and the team will need to find more money to keep up with their respective construction costs. He said Gateway will draw up a financial analysis of its looming capital repairs by February. 

“This analysis will likely highlight the need for all parties – public and private – to work together on a more robust and sustainable approach to funding capital repairs into the future,” Silliman said. 

Where that money would come from remains to be seen. The city and county are already staring down other costly projects in the form of a renovated Browns stadium and a new jail. 

The price of construction is hitting the Guardians, too. Despite efforts to control costs, the team projects the ballpark overhaul could run $40 million to $50 million more than the original $202.5 million price tag, a team official said at the meeting. The team would handle the overrun.

On Wednesday, Gateway’s board approved $27.7 million to replace ballpark seats, bringing the total seating costs up to $40 million. The board also OKed $1.9 million for a new air handling system and almost $4.7 million to upgrade television equipment. 

More costs are coming. At its next meeting, Gateway will likely vote on $665,000 in elevator work and $1.4 million to replace walk-in freezers, exhaust hoods, ovens and other kitchen equipment. These are repairs Gateway is obligated to make per its lease with the team.

According to Gateway’s board notes, the team will submit more requests for repair dollars next year. 

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Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio. He has more than a decade experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In 2021, 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.