Some possible good news for taxpayers in a new article on cleveland.com tonight. The story asks, will the county move its offices because of the convention center and Medical Mart project?
The answer is, it probably will -- either to make room for the Medical Mart itself, if property owners nearby won't sell, or after the Medical Mart opens, to make room for a convention-center hotel. But that's not the good news. The good news is that the county is looking at leasing offices downtown, which could make moving a lot more affordable.
Finding a new home for the county is a touchy question. The commissioners' original plan, building on the Ameritrust Tower site, turned out to be so expensive, the county had to halt the project.
When I wrote my story "Tower Play" about the aborted project last year, I found there were two main reasons the price went so high. One was Tim Hagan's strong feeling that the county should own its offices, not rent them. “I don’t believe the government should be subservient to a landlord,” he told me. The second reason was Hagan and Jimmy Dimora's insistence on tearing down the Ameritrust Tower, instead of renovating it, and building new offices on the site.
But Dimora and Hagan are no longer likely to make the decision about where the county moves. If the county can buy land on St. Clair Ave. for the Medical Mart, it won't have to move for years. A new convention center hotel won't be built until there's demand for it -- that is, if and when the Medical Mart proves to be a success. Dimora's term expires at the end of 2010, Hagan's at the end of 2012, and both have said they aren't running for re-election.
Plain Dealer reporter Joe Guillen's story ends this way:
Hagan tries to distance himself from any decision about the county's future home. ... "My judgment is it won't happen in my term," he said.
This week, when Hagan told me the county building was the backup Medical Mart site, I wrote that I didn't think the county can afford to move right now. Guillen's story shows how a move might be affordable.
When a future lineup of county commissioners decides where to move, the cost savings from leasing will probably look very attractive to them. Guillen floats a figure of $5 million a year to lease new space. That's lower than the lease offers the county got in 2004. But it appears from the story that the county has cut back on how many offices it would relocate and how much space it would need. It may also be a reflection of the fact that a lot of downtown office space is coming on the market soon.
The story picks up on my favorite idea for where the county could move: The Huntington Building, at East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue. It's my favorite for aesthetic reasons, not financial. Stately on the outside, with a gorgeous, soaring lobby, it already has the classic grandeur of a classic government building. Huntington Bank is moving to the BP building at the end of 2011. (A bit of historic trivia: Eliot Ness kept an office in the Huntington Building in the early 1950s.)