Thursday, May 25, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: Business leaders seeking end to impasse on Q deal

Talks may be on tap as civic leaders regroup in wake of referendum petition filing

CLEVELAND — The Real Deal has learned that civic and business leaders have made overtures to the Greater Cleveland Congregations that may result in negotiations that could allow the expansion of Quicken Loans Arena to go forward.

At this point no one will speak authoritatively for fear of jeopardizing the possibility that a negotiated settlement might be found to end the current impasse. No dates have been set, no negotiators identified, no pre-conditions established. But movement is afoot.

Although both the County and the City of Cleveland have approved the deal, serious questions remain whether the project can go forward. GCC formed a coalition with political and labor organizations that also oppose the deal on multiple grounds. The coalition gathered more than 20,600 petition signatures of Cleveland voters calling for a referendum on the deal.

The city technically refused to accept the petitions when they were presented on Monday, but when GCC leaders adopted a resolute stance that was evocative of 1960s southern civil rights demonstrations, city officials agreed to receive the petitions for “safekeeping”.

Whether or not the petitions are ever officially accepted and forwarded to the Board of Elections for certification, and the issues put before the voters, the coalition that gathered them has made its strength known.

The coalition had 30 days to submit about 6,000 valid signatures from registered Cleveland voters to force a referendum on whether the Quicken Loans deal passed last month by Cleveland City Council should remain in force. By submitting more than three times the number required by the city’s Charter, the coalition demonstrated the immense unhappiness on the part of ordinary Clevelanders over financing the proposed expansion of the Q and cast doubt on the project’s survival.

Deal proponents want the County to issue bonds on June 1 to finance the project and to commence work as soon as the NBA playoffs end for the Cavaliers, which would be June 18 at the latest.

It is unknown exactly who has reached out to GCC leaders or who might have seats at the table. That may become clear over the next several days as talks likely have to begin soon if the Cavaliers’ June 19 project start date is to remain intact.

GCC has maintained all along that it is not opposed to the Q’s expansion but that any deal involving public financing should be fairly negotiated and include well-defined community benefits. These benefits would include the establishment of a Community Equity Fund to underwrite effective jobs programs, create east and west side mental health centers, and invest in neighborhood development. The size of the fund, and how it would be administered are yet to be determined. GCC leaders have disavowed any interest in controlling the fund.

Until now, there has been no willingness on the part of the Cavaliers, city or county public officials, or the business and philanthropic community to give even token credence to the GCC position.

Off the record conversations with civic leaders suggested that some civic and business leaders saw negotiations as the prudent path to finding some sort of middle ground that would allow the deal to go forward and avoid the contentiousness of a referendum campaign. The momentum for such talk likely accelerated after Monday’s confrontation, including the flimsiness of the city’s response.

The talks will likely have an undercurrent of urgency, given the desired construction timetable, and the likelihood that legal questions regarding the city’s obligation to process the petitions will remain unresolved and potentially court-bound.

But for Cleveland residents who feel their neighborhoods have been neglected in favor of downtown and select other interests, news that a community equity fund may lead to some much neighborhood transformation has to be cause for at least guarded optimism.

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