Monday, May 4, 2009

Who will like the city-county deal, who won't

After reading the city and county's $20 million deal for the convention center and Public Auditorium, here's who I think will like the deal and who won't:

Activists and bloggers who hate tax abatements won't like this deal one bit. The city pledges to support any county requests for tax abatements for the project. (The county has already promised to cover any taxes imposed on MMPI.) Also, the city promises to make up the tax revenue the Cleveland schools will lose if, as planned, the county buys three private properties at St. Clair and Ontario for the site of the Medical Mart building.

Film industry supporters will be sad to lose the old convention center as a potential soundstage. But Nehst Creations, the film company that signed a lease to move into the center, will be able to stay at least a year.

Fans of the downtown Mall will be nervous, but maybe also hopeful. The deal acknowledges that the Mall will have to be raised a few feet higher to give the new convention center the ceiling height that convention planners want. But the county says MMPI will pledge to create a new park there that's at least as good as the current one. MMPI's Mark Falanga has told me the company wants the Mall to be an attractive gathering place for Clevelanders, like Millennium Park in Chicago.

Minority-hiring activists should be pretty happy. The deal requires MMPI to require the contractor who builds the new convention center and Medical Mart to "utilize good faith efforts" to do two things:
-subcontract 25% of the job to county-certified small businesses
-hire a workforce made up of 40% county residents, including 20% Cleveland residents

The county will monitor the project to see if the contractor is meeting those goals.

The word "minority" never appears in the agreement, because the county can't require private contractors to meet racial hiring quotas. But about 60 percent of Clevelanders are black and Hispanic, and the county's small-business program for subcontractors includes a lot of minority-owned and female-owned businesses. MMPI will also work with the Cleveland schools to establish construction training programs that will lead to jobs on the project for the trainees.

Norman Edwards, the mercurial activist who shows up at nearly every county meeting to argue for more minority hiring on county projects (and who now faces a ban from the meetings for abusive behavior), may not be satisfied with this, but it seems to go about as far as the law allows.

Those who want to bring non-medical conventions back to Cleveland will be moderately happy. The deal includes language about booking non-medical events that benefit Cleveland's economic development, even if they aren't profitable to MMPI(!). If a scheduling conflict arises between two possible events, MMPI still gets to make the final decision, but the county says MMPI will consult with Positively Cleveland before deciding what to book.

Supporters of Positively Cleveland will still be uneasy. The city got the county to agree that the convention and visitor's bureau "provides significant assistance to the entire region," and to give it a role in resolving scheduling conflicts. But the city backed off and acknowledged that "The amount of county bed tax that goes to fund Positively Cleveland in the future will be determined solely by the county."

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