Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Coalition forms to put Q Deal on the Ballot

A newly formed coalition has come together to challenge the $282 million deal to expand Quicken Loans Arena by putting it before Cleveland voters.

Announcement of the coalition came less than 36 hours after Cleveland City Council approved the deal Monday night in council chambers packed with supporters and opponents of the controversial legislation.

The coalition, comprised of Greater Cleveland Congregations, Service Employees International Union Local 1199, Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, AFSCME Ohio Council 8, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 268, will need to collect 6,000 valid signatures from registered Cleveland voters within the next 30 days to bring the Q deal before Cleveland voters through the referendum process permitted by the city’s charter.

Given the membership bases of these groups, and their organizing skills and experience, collecting the necessary signatures could probably done in a matter of days. It is likely, however, that the coalition will take longer, possibly to make a show of strength by submitted considerably more than the charter requires.

Once the signatures have been gathered, the petitions must be presented to the clerk of city council. When the petitions have been verified, Council has the choice of either reversing its 12-5 vote or placing the issue on the ballot.

Council would set the date for any referendum vote. Possibilities include this year’s primary or general election dates [Sept. 12 or Nov. 7] or a special election.

The debate over the expansion of Quicken Loans Arena has centered on several issues. Proponents assert that the facility, built in 1994, must be modernized to keep it and Cleveland competitive among its peer groups: the National Basketball Association and the regional venues that seek to attract events ranging from truck shows, concerts, circuses, etc. They point to the Q’s importance as the area’s leading driver of economic activity with nearly 200 events a year. Without this bill, they say, promoters will bypass Cleveland and the Cavaliers could leave when their lease expires in 2027.

Critics have expressed many concerns. They say the deal was done behind closed doors without adequate representation of the public interest. They question whether Q expansion is an appropriate expenditure of public funds in this manner at this time and in this amount. Almost all of this expansion will be paid by public dollars, claims to the contrary notwithstanding. The city is committed to $88 million, Cuyahoga County will pay $16 million, and the quasi-public Destination Cleveland will contribute $44 million of tax revenues. The Cavs will pay the remaining $122 in the form of increased rent for the improved facility, the rent of course being public revenue.

Greater Cleveland Congregations has repeatedly sought to engage Cavaliers management and public officials in dialogue about a community benefits agreement that could enhance the entire community and not merely the arena. In this morning’s press release announcing the coalition, GCC co-chair Pastor Richard Gibson of Elizabeth Baptist Church said:

“From the beginning there has been an unwillingness to develop a deal that addresses the critical ills in our neighborhoods like high unemployment, inadequate mental health crisis centers, increasing gun violence, and persistent challenges in schools. More energy has been spent attacking our proposal than considering or developing a deal that would more broadly impact our city and county.”

Critics say beyond the deal’s finances are these larger questions: why are neighborhood needs consistently shuffled to the back of the agenda in favor of downtown? When will the corporate and political leaders abandon the discredited notion that “trickle down” economics works? How can we build a community that prioritizes human needs over athletic shrines and play palaces? How might we create a community where all voices are equally valued?

As the Q question moves towards a likely ballot battle, it may be hard for voters to keep these larger questions in mind. A court challenge to the referendum by corporate interests is a distinct possibility. Personal attacks are likely to escalate. And all of this will unfold in the midst of a citywide election that sees the mayor and all seventeen council seats on the fall ballots.

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