Tony George, the owner of the building and billboard atop a critical piece of land needed for the redevelopment of Irishtown Bend, said he’s happy to be part of new plans for the storied Ohio City hillside that overlooks the Flats.
“I look forward to being a good partner and working with everybody involved,” George told Signal Cleveland this week, breaking his silence on the matter.
But George still wants to clear up what he said are a few misconceptions about his recently settled legal fight with the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, which has been leading the effort to redevelop Irishtown Bend.
The port sought to force George to sell his property at West 25th Street and Detroit Avenue, which he co-owns with his son, Bobby, to the government through what is known as eminent domain proceedings.
George said he preemptively sued the port, the Cleveland Metroparks and others involved because he believed they were attempting to undervalue the property and were discounting his abilities as a developer.
The terms of the settlement – which guarantees George and his son far more than the public entities initially offered – prove George’s business acumen. (You can find the details of the settlement best laid out in these Crain’s Cleveland Business stories here and here.)
“They said we are opportunists, and that I only bought the building because we knew they wanted it,” George said. “We weren’t trying to steal it from anyone. We are opportunists in that we are businessmen, and we bought the property because of the billboard and because we wanted to be part of the redevelopment on West 25th Street.”
George said the property was for sale for years.
“[The port] could have bought it themselves, but they did not want to pay what it was worth,” he said.
George said that he and his son, who owns the successful TownHall restaurant on West 25th Street, have made substantial investments in Ohio City.
“So why would we do anything to hurt ourselves?” George said about the notion that he would let his property sit idle.
The port’s legal strategy to take control of the property in a hurry – by claiming the hillside was in imminent danger of sliding into the Cuyahoga River – failed. Multiple courts didn’t buy the argument and sided with George, which led to settlement talks.
The settlement clears the way for work on the hillside stabilization to begin immediately. It also gives the Georges – who will donate the property to the project – the opportunity to operate a new 3,000-square-foot restaurant and large patio that will be built by the project partners on the same site.
George said he and his son pledge to put substantial money into the interior of the space to ensure that it lives up to the vision and importance of the project.
“We will still have to invest $1 million or $2 million into fixtures, furniture, kitchen and equipment,” he said, acknowledging that the deal does give him an initial credit toward the lease of the new building.
Final note on Irishtown Bend
Everyone involved agrees the completed Irishtown Bend project will be a great benefit to the public. But tax dollars are paying for most of it. Taxpayers also paid a hefty price tag for the legal fight that was triggered by the port’s move to try to get the property through eminent domain. The port, the Metroparks and others racked up more than $1.6 million in legal costs, which Signal Cleveland first reported. That figure does not include the $1.25 million settlement with the Georges, who are not being compensated for their own legal costs.
Shaker apartments legal fight
As Signal Cleveland’s Nick Castele reported previously, the City of Cleveland is suing the owners and managers of a run-down set of apartment buildings blocks from Shaker Square. The case is worth watching because it marks a significant escalation in the city’s enforcement of housing codes against corporate owners. The case, however, has stalled because the defendants are trying to move the case out of Cleveland Housing Court to federal court, according to recent paperwork filed by their lawyers. They argue that because the defendants live in various states other than Ohio, the case belongs in federal court. The city is trying to keep the case on its hometown turf and claims the owners are just stalling. In recent court papers, the landlords said they have invested “significant hours and millions of dollars” fixing up the properties that the prior owner had left in disrepair.
Tri-C presidential homecoming
Former Cuyahoga Community College leaders Nolen Ellison, Jerry Sue Thornton and Alex Johnson are coming together for a discussion this Thursday, April 13, at the Cleveland Public Library’s Louis Stokes Wing downtown. They’ll be joined by David Chapman, who will represent his late father and Tri-C’s founding president, Charles Chapman.
Current college president Michael Baston will moderate the group’s conversation ahead of his inauguration ceremony the next day. The free event’s theme is “Celebrating Legacy – Building Momentum,” per the description on its Eventbrite listing. Tri-C is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
Documenter Tina Scott notes that during the recent City Council Municipal Services and Properties Committee meeting, officials discussed plans to spend $10 million to fix up City Hall by repairing and restoring doors, windows and exterior facades. The city also wants to spend $4 million to repair or replace leaky pipes. You can find Scott’s notes here.