Haslams’ major announcement(s)

Harbor Development Plan would transform the downtown lakefront

One or more announcements are expected, starting in a week about the future of downtown Cleveland’s lakefront and the Cleveland Browns’ CrossCountry Mortgage Campus in Berea. If the results of those announcements come to pass, downtown Cleveland’s lakefront and the north end of Berea are going to look very different by the end of this decade (AoDK). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Rebuilt stadium, lakefront development, bigger Berea campus

Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Berea Mayor Cyril Kleem, Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne and others are due to make one or more big announcements starting next week that will include the lakefront football stadium, the Browns’ Berea campus, mixed-use developments around both plus a relocated Shoreway. The announcements will be about changes intended to activate the downtown lakefront by the end of this decade in ways it hasn’t been since the 1930s and to create a year-round fan-friendly village around the team’s suburban headquarters and practice facility, according to two sources familiar with the developments.

NEOtrans has learned that the Browns and the city of Cleveland did not see eye-to-eye about building a new stadium whose projected costs had grown into the billions. The Browns still want a new stadium but the $2 billion to $3 billion cost and lack of political support for spending that much has produced what one source called “an impasse” between the city. So the Haslams, the Bibb and Ronayne administrations and others will instead pursue financing for a major rebuilding of the existing football venue on the lakefront that could cost in excess of $1 billion.

Separately but related, the state’s proposed capital budget has $62 million in it to help offset the expected $200+ million cost of constructing a large, mixed-use land bridge near the stadium, State Rep. Mike Skindell (D-Lakewood) told NEOtrans. Below the landscaped roof of the land bridge will be thousands of parking spaces and a transit center to encourage more lakefront development including housing, live-work offices, hotels, shops and restaurants. The Haslams are also putting together a bond financing package in conjunction with the city and a proposed New Community Authority (NCA) called the North Coast Development Authority to contribute much of the remaining costs.

No one from the city, county or the Haslam Sports Group/Cleveland Browns were willing to comment on the upcoming announcement(s). The first of those announcements is due to come one week from today, sources said, when Bibb announces the new North Coast Development Authority.

“The Port Authority fully supports the Mayor and his approach,” said Will Friedman, president of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority.” We see the NCA as an important tool for redevelopment and not as overlapping with the Port Authority. In fact, NCA’s are being used in Columbus and other Ohio communities with existing Port Authorities. Our Port will add its capabilities as needed so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

A proposed land bridge linking downtown Cleveland’s grassy malls with North Coast Harbor is considered by the owners of the Browns and local officials as the key to unlocking the lakefront’s potential. It not only means relocating the Shoreway, but the thousands of parking spaces to be contained in the land bridge will allow parking lots around the stadium to be turned into development sites (AoDK).

The timeline and the moving parts are complex but are starting to come into focus. There are still many unknowns at this early stage. But between now and when the venue formerly known as FirstEnergy Stadium (reverting back to Cleveland Browns Stadium) is rebuilt, many of the team’s and Haslam Sports Group office staff will be temporarily relocated from their Berea headquarters to makeshift offices at the stadium and to remote working.

During the renovation of the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus, the Browns offseason training programs may have to be relocated for up to one year. Expansion of the campus will take longer — more than one year and may be carried out in phases depending on financing and city approvals. The expanded campus will reportedly include a new hotel, restaurants, shops, conference facilities. The Haslams and the city have already acquired more than 30 acres of land and demolished many homes and a church for this massive expansion of the Browns’ Berea facilities.

Then, starting as early as 2026 and continuing for two to three football seasons, depending on funding from public and private sources, the Haslams seek to rebuild Cleveland Browns Stadium so thoroughly that a source said “it won’t look anything like it does now.” The city-owned stadium will reportedly be rebuilt on their existing lease with the city rather than wait until after that 30-year lease expires following the 2028 football season. The reason for rebuilding the stadium sooner, coinciding with converting the Shoreway to a boulevard, is to avoid higher construction costs later on and start the next lease with the newly rebuilt stadium. That means the Browns will play for two to three seasons at another location.

It isn’t publicly known yet where the Browns will play, but Columbus is a likely location. The Haslams already have a presence there with their Columbus Crew Major League Soccer club. Its venue, the two-year-old, soccer-specific Lower.com Field, seats only 20,371. When the Browns played their first Orange & Brown Scrimmage on Aug. 7, 2015, they played to 49,734 fans at the Ohio State University’s 102,734-seat Ohio Stadium (aka The Horseshoe). It was the highest attendance for any Browns open practice or Family Day since at least 2005. The Browns would like to regain their fan dominance in Ohio’s capital city, taking attention away from their AFC North Division rivals Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Sources described the renovated Browns stadium as stripping the venue down to and possibly including some of its original load-bearing structure. “It will be a top-down rebuilding,” said one source. That’s why it’s more of a rebuild than a renovation. It includes constructing new, wider concourses around the stadium’s perimeter that are climate-controlled and offer views of the field. That alone would require a major rebuild of the stadium as the current concourses are lower than their entries into the seating bowl and the current structure cannot support them.

High-rises are proposed between East 9th Street, at left, and a new land bridge, with their parking to be included as part of the land bridge project. While this image is conceptual, it shows what type and scale of development is under active consideration by the Haslams (AoDK).

The existing landfill footprint on which Cleveland Browns Stadium is built may not be able to support the added weight either. Historians note that Cleveland Browns Stadium was built on the foundations of the 1931-built Municipal Stadium, and that foundation reportedly consisted of driving utility poles into the landfill of reclaimed lake bed. Expanding the stadium and its concourses outward will likely require additional foundations to support the weight. However, no dome or even a retractable roof is apparently being considered due to the expense and additional weight, the sources said.

Despite the team’s denials, sources reiterate that the Browns still prefer a new stadium with a retractable roof because of the many more events that it can host and provide revenues to proposed new restaurants, shops and hotels surrounding businesses. Events could include college basketball’s Final Four, Big Ten and Mid-American Conference football, soccer and basketball games, visiting National Hockey League and Major League Soccer games, national soccer team friendlies, concerts held year-round and more.

However, a source said the “impasse” between the Haslams and Bibb Administration reportedly got salty enough at one point that the Haslams were prepared to bypass the administration, seek help from City Council and even support City Council President Blaine Griffin in the next mayoral election in 2025 in order to get a new stadium. The Haslams backed off that threat because they need mayoral administrative support to achieve significant progress in getting a new or renovated stadium before 2025, the source added. That backing off apparently occurred before NEOtrans wrote its last article on the subject. A spokesman for the Haslams, Bibb’s Chief of Staff Bradford Davy and Griffin denied the allegations of an impasse, as previously noted.

“All of our work over the past year has been focused on the renovation of FirstEnergy Stadium,” said Peter John-Baptiste, senior vice president of communications for the Browns and Haslam Sports Group. “All of our conversations with the mayor have been supportive and geared toward exploring a path that is beneficial to the city, community and the region.”

“The Bibb administration is committed to working with the Haslam Sports Group in good faith to ensure that the Cleveland Browns continue to play home games in the City of Cleveland,” according to an official statement from the administration.

“I haven’t talked to anyone about the Browns’ stadium or anything political,” Griffin told NEOtrans.

Low-rise buildings are envisioned north of the stadium because they are in the flight path for aircraft approaching and departing Burke Lakefront Airport, which reportedly will soon see the addition of new hangars for aircraft serving downtown employers (AoDK).

Other factors coming in to play with the upcoming announcement(s) include the advancement of a “land bridge” linking the grassy downtown malls atop the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland with North Coast Harbor. While the land bridge over the busy railroad tracks has been touted as a way to improve the physical and psychological connection between downtown and the lakefront, which currently are linked only by two noisy, windswept, pedestrian-unfriendly streets, it ultimately will be a huge parking garage with a green roof and a transit center in the basement.

This structure is the type of project to be financed by the new North Coast Development Authority that will be introduced to Cleveland City Council next week. Detailed discussions between the city and financiers are well underway for the land bridge, a source said. In addition to serving stadium visitors and the convention center, the number of parking spaces will also satisfy the parking requirements of private lenders who are being asked to help finance adjacent high-rise apartment buildings and mixed-use structures. And the parking in this land bridge will allow existing stadium parking lots north and west of the stadium to be developed with lower-rise structures below the paths of aircraft approaching and departing Burke Lakefront Airport. Under the Browns current lease with the city, the city is required to provide a minimum number of parking spaces for stadium events.

Before the entire land bridge can be built, the Shoreway and its rising, intrusive bridges must be converted to a surface-level boulevard intersecting with East 9th and West 3rd streets. An alternatives analysis is nearing completion for this project to determine what alignment should be the subject of detailed design and engineering which will take another year. That would be followed by a year of demolition of the existing Shoreway bridges over West 3rd and the railroad tracks, and East 9th’s bridge over the Shoreway, plus a year or more for construction of the new boulevard. This demolition and construction work is likely to coincide with the rebuilding of Cleveland Browns Stadium.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure that has to go into connecting downtown, which is the first thing that has to happen,” Jimmy Haslam said recently. “We’ve got to connect downtown to the waterfront, right? Everybody knows that. So you’ve got to relocate the highway … I do think the city, the county and the state are working together well, but there’s a lot of hoops to jump through.”

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