Downtown soccer stadium project takes a time-out

Louisville’s Lynn Family Stadium, home of LouCity Football
Club, opened this year under pandemic-induced social distan-
cing restrictions. The $65 million stadium has 11,700 seats
but is expandable to 15,304 by adding seats at the open
end where the big screen is located (Devon Roberts).

A 10,000-seat soccer stadium proposed to be built in downtown Cleveland is on hold until pandemic-hurt finances improve among backers of the project so they can acquire a site for it.

Last spring, the Ohio Department of Transportation began soliciting responses from prospective real estate brokers or auctioneers to help it dispose of at least 30 acres of land it owns immediately south of the Inner Belt section of Interstate 90 next to Ontario Street. The goal was to put the land on the market in November. But ODOT District 12 Public Information Officer Brent Kovacs said disposition of the property has been put on ice.”In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, ODOT decided to pause the process regarding the potential auction of the subject property,” he said in an e-mail to NEOtrans. “Accordingly, no company was selected and no dates have been established. At this time ODOT does not have an estimate for when the process may resume.”


About 49 acres of land was acquired in 2011 from Norfolk Southern
Corp. by the Ohio Department of Transportation for building the
new Cuyahoga Valley viaducts for the Inner Belt section of
Interstate 90. ODOT doesn’t need most of the land and is
seeking to dispose of it once the pandemic eases (KJP).

ODOT acquired the 49-acre, former Norfolk Southern Corp. intermodal rail yards in 2011 for $29.8 million to facilitate construction of the Inner Belt’s new Cuyahoga Viaduct bridges. But the preferred soccer stadium site may be less than half of that, a piece of land bounded by the Inner Belt, Ontario, Broadway Avenue, East 9th Extension and Commercial Road.

Considering that ODOT is seeing a significant reduction in gas tax revenues because of the pandemic, one would think that ODOT would be very motivated to raise revenues from non-conventional sources — such as the sale of properties it doesn’t use or intend to use in the future. Traffic on Ohio roads dropped to about 50 percent below normal levels earlier this year and while truck traffic has recovered, car traffic is still 15 percent below normal.

“Certainly as more people drive less it has impacted our budget,” Kovacs acknowledged. “However, that impact hasn’t necessitated us changing our strategy of working to obtain the best return on investment possible for the taxpayers of Ohio.”

That could include a desired buyer who is currently lacking the funds to make a targeted real estate purchase for the 10,000-seat stadium. That potential buyer may be the Gateway Economic Development Corp. of Greater Cleveland, based on an April 16 letter by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-9) to ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks.

“The Gateway Economic Development Corporation of Greater Cleveland, an entity with controlling ties to the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County is uniquely situated to own such a venue, as they have three decades of experience promoting sports, entertainment and tourism in downtown Cleveland,” Kaptur wrote.

Like Louisville, another United Soccer League stadium opened
this year – the 8,000-seat CHI Memorial Stadium. It is part of
a $150+ million mixed-use development (USL).

The letter didn’t identify the property for the stadium but there aren’t any other underutilized ODOT-owned properties in downtown Cleveland large enough to accommodate a soccer stadium. And other persons have identified the site, including when NEOtrans first broke the story in March 2019 about the potential for a downtown soccer stadium.

“I am pleased to express my strong support for the development of a soccer-specific, multi-purpose venue in downtown Cleveland,” Kaptur added. “The use of property proposed by the Cleveland Soccer Stadium Corporation is for a public purpose and in the public interest. The addition of a 10,000-seat professional soccer venue would bring economic development opportunities that the city is poised to capitalize on.”

Kaptur is a ranking member of the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee which oversees all federal discretionary spending including the transportation budget. Her district extends along Lake Erie’s shore from Toledo to Cleveland.

“This (soccer stadium) proposal presents an important public use, and I urge its favorage review, consistent with your agency’s rules and regulations,” Kaptur said to ODOT’s Marchbanks.

She also said a soccer stadium of that size would facilitate the introduction of a new level of professional soccer to Cleveland and complement open-air venues the city can provide. Colleges, high schools and youth sports programs would be able to take advantage of the stadium, Kaptur added.

This image shows where various land uses could fit with
minimal earthmoving to flatten land or to put the Regional
Transit Authority’s rapid transit rail line in a tunnel through
the potential soccer stadium/mixed-use project site (KJP).

But Todd Greathouse, executive director of the Gateway Economic Development Corp. of Greater Cleveland, said his nonprofit organization isn’t on board yet with pursuing a soccer stadium. The corporation owns Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, and Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, plus associated parking decks and joint development.

“This concept was brought up by the original director (of Gateway, Tom Chema) who left in 1995,” Greathouse said. “It would require a long approval process to be considered any further.”

Gateway Economic Development Corp. is funded primarily by leases paid by the Indians and Cavaliers as well as from the use of Gateway-owned parking decks and so-called sin taxes paid by persons buying alcohol and tobacco in Cuyahoga County.

Gateway receives up to $14 million per year from Cuyahoga County’s sin tax. That revenue reportedly is way down this year but exact dollar figures were not available. Far fewer people are out socializing with a drink or three as many bars are either closed or operating at reduced capacity due to social distancing. This is especially true in downtown Cleveland and at establishments near the Gateway stadiums.
Chema is listed in Ohio Secretary of State records as the statutory agent for the Cleveland Soccer Stadium Corp., which was incorporated in 2017. Because of ODOT hitting the pause button on the sale of the former intermodal yards downtown, the soccer stadium company’s activities are also on hold.
Looking generally north towards towards downtown Cleveland
with the ODOT-owned land and potential stadium site spread
out across almost the entire bottom of the image (Google).

“Relative to the soccer project, there really is nothing new,” Chema said. “There has been no activity.”

Constructing a 10,000-seat soccer stadium is considered essential to Cleveland landing a United Soccer League franchise. Brothers Greg and Shaw Abrams, co-owners of six Force Sports fitness centers, are teaming up with investors to find $5 million to pay the USL’s franchise expansion fee.

The effort was negatively affected when Force Sports centers were forced to close this past spring. Some programs were offered this summer, namely outdoor sports like volleyball, baseball, lacrosse, tennis and soccer. Indoor programs are restarting albeit with restrictions.

If the USL fee is paid and a stadium is provided, the team will be called the Cleveland Force. The Abrams brothers acquired the naming rights to the Force, an indoor soccer league team that thrived at the since-demolished Richfield Coliseum from 1978-88. Indoor soccer plans to return as the Cleveland Crunch in November 2021.

The Abrams have not publicly confirmed anything since NEOtrans first reported the story last year.

“Our goal is to make sure that a stadium deal can be announced at some point soon,” Greg Abrams said in the March 30, 2019 article. He said announcements will be made as soon as he gets the OK from his partners.


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