Friday, May 14, 2010

What new city-county deal means for downtown

The city and county's new convention center deal tinkers with a lot of stuff downtown. Some interesting details I noticed in today's Plain Dealer story:

-Mall B may look really weird in a few years. The city will let MMPI raise the convention center's ceiling as high as it thinks it has to -- even if that means it pops up from underground and pushes Mall B, the plaza between St. Clair and Lakeside, above street level.

The good news is, MMPI has hired first-rate talent to make the best of the situation: local nonprofit ParkWorks and a renowned architectural firm from Seattle are in charge of planning how to remake the malls. Mall C, north of Lakeside, can only go a foot higher than it is now -- a sign that City Hall wants to preserve the lakefront views over the bluff.

-Separating Public Auditorium from the new convention center is going to cost the county $8 million. Taxpayers probably shouldn't fret, since MMPI has pledged to pay for any cost overruns on the development, but let's hope the rising site costs don't tempt MMPI to scale back its ambitions for the Medical Mart and convention center designs.

-The county will still pay the city $20 million for the convention center site, even though Public Auditorium isn't part of the deal. No surprise: it looked like a unique asset a year ago, but it looks like a money pit now. So the city is promising the county it'll spend some of the $20 million on renovating the 1920s landmark.

-{Update, 5/18: I've gotten a copy of the agreement, and last year's deal to spend some of the cash on Perk Plaza is still in there. "The County urges the City to apply $2,500,000 of the Purchase Price to the restoration of Perk Park in downtown Cleveland," the agreement says. It doesn't obligate the city; it's just a recommendation.}

Perk Plaza is already being renovated no matter what -- the basic work of converting it from concrete maze to green lawn is already underway. But without the convention center money, Perk would have to do without some of the innovations that would make it more of a respite for East 12th Street apartment-dwellers: a fountain for kids to play in, a space for concerts, a heated trellis to make the park more comfortable in spring and fall.

-The deal revives a question I blogged about a lot last year: whether Positively Cleveland's funding will be cut to help pay for the Medical Mart and convention center. The sales tax earmarked for the project raises almost, but not quite, enough to fund it. The county hotel-room tax may have to make up the rest.

"The document also calls for the county to retain control of the amount of county bed tax revenue that goes to Positively Cleveland," the PD story says. That means the city's attempt to argue Positively Cleveland's case in the negotiations didn't get anywhere.

That must make it an unnerving week for the town's convention and visitor's bureau. Today's PD also says it and other tenants may have to move out of the Higbee building to make way for a temporary casino. But with sales-tax cash piling up in the bank until construction starts in October, the county won't have to solve the bed-tax dilemma for a while. It's one more thing to add to the new charter government's to-do list.

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