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Convention Center conversation lacks details

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/26/07 @ 9:28am

Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins (Ward 15) and Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson-Jones have made cogent arguments about why they cannot support the county’s proposed ¼% sales tax hike for a convention center and a lure for the Medical Mart. Like many people, Cummins and Jones aren't pleased with the lack of details the county provided about the location of the proposed convention center and how much of the financing of the privately run Medical Mart will ultimately get picked up by the public.

For one, Cummins isn’t buying the need for a new location for the center, arguing instead that any proposal should first look at redeveloping the existing convention center.

"The Mall site is a premier location that would save significant current and future costs due to current land ownership (by City of Cleveland) as well as providing for 200,000 sq. ft of outdoor public plazas (the Mall) and Lake Erie views. In addition, the parking and ancillary revenues for a convention center would be more guaranteed to flow to the City of Cleveland or the Convention Facility Authority if the existing City of Cleveland site is used rather than to private land owners at the Tower City site and adjacent areas."

Today, (Thursday, July 26) is a public hearing on the sales tax proposal. Details here.

Cummins agrees with Jones' proposal to increase the county bed tax by 1-2% to raise $2.5 to 5 million per year to help finance the building. An even larger share of funding should be considered to come from a one-time payment in lieu of taxes from the Cleveland Clinic Health System and University Hospitals Health System, he adds.

"The Medical Mart would benefit these Health Systems enormously and the use of a one-time payment in lieu of taxes from institutions such as these is not uncommon. A 2004 Policy Matters study reported that together these two Systems held property valued at $1.3 billion and if payments based on property tax rates were made they would total some $34 million per year. The question of some payments over some period of time should be discussed with these premier Health Systems to help this project."

In a letter to the Plain Dealer, Lawson-Jones rejects the tax hike because it adversely impacts a large population of lower income people, and because it comes before any deal is announced.

"The timing of the proposed sales tax increase is troubling," he writes. "County residents would begin paying the additional tax Oct. 1, well before the revenue would be needed to retire the debt from the bonds issued to finance the project. Moreover, the tax is being imposed prior to a deal being consummated, the details of the transaction made public and the request for proposals to develop the complex released. In short, the proposed tax increase is premature."

Read Councilman Cummins letter (pdf) at Brewed Fresh Daily;

Read Lawson-Jones' PD letter;

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