Why aren’t the Browns buying this key piece of land?

Shown in white, FirstEnergy’s narrow strip of land is only about 100 feet wide but extends about 1,400 feet into the center of the Brook Park site, shown in red, the Haslam Sports Group apparently desires for a possible new domed stadium. On that land is an active, high-voltage electrical transmission line that feeds a nearby Ford engine plant. A football stadium cannot be built here until that utility right of way is addressed. In the background is Cleveland Hopkins International Airport with Snow Road at lower left and Interstate 71 at lower right (Google). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

FirstEnergy land transmits Browns’ seriousness

On Cuyahoga County real estate parcel maps, a narrow strip of land owned by FirstEnergy knifes into the heart of a Brook Park site the owner of the Cleveland Browns football team reportedly wants for a possible new domed stadium. Despite its prominence on the map, no one in Cleveland media apparently has asked its owner if it has any agreements with anyone for its potential sale — until now.

“I can confirm that FirstEnergy owns the property that contains transmission lines, and there are no current plans for removal. We have not entered into any agreements for sale of the property,” Jennifer Young, manager of corporate communications at FirstEnergy, told NEOtrans.

The question for the Browns’ owners, the Haslam Sports Group, is — “why not?” Peter John-Baptiste, vice president of communications at the Browns and for the Haslams, opened an e-mail from NEOtrans asking that question but declined to respond prior to publication of this article.

In the grand scale of the 176-acre site, FirstEnergy’s land is small. It is only 3.68 acres and just 100 feet wide. But it cuts more than 1,400 feet into the very heart of the site for which the Haslams apparently have a purchase agreement. NEOtrans was first to report the Haslams’ interest in the site. We were also first to share a confirmed authentic rendering of the proposed stadium and surrounding development.

As seen from Engle Road, two sets of high-tension electric transmission lines pass through the 176-acre site for which the Haslam Sports Group reportedly has a purchase agreement. But the transmission lines are set on land owned by FirstEnergy whose spokesperson said no purchase agreements exist for their property. At left, Ford Engine Plant No. 2 was being demolished when this streetview was captured in July 2021 (Google).

The FirstEnergy land hosts two sets of high-tension, high-voltage, electric transmission lines supported by pairs of side-by-side towers. They deliver electricity to Ford Motor Company’s Engine Plant No. 1, 5600 Henry Ford Blvd. That 1.6-million-square-foot plant employs about 1,834 workers.

For the Haslams to build a stadium and supportive development, the FirstEnergy land would have to be acquired and the transmission lines moved to keep the Ford plant operational. This will be an expensive endeavor. It may be perhaps the most expensive next site-prep step facing the Haslams — if they decide to continue to pursue the Brook Park site.

And that’s why this FirstEnergy transmission line right-of-way is so telling. It’s a sign of commitment. Getting a purchase agreement for the 176 acres is akin to asking a girl to dance with you. Seeking the FirstEnergy right-of-way is like putting a diamond ring on her finger and asking her to marry you.

While the Haslams have not admitted to having a purchase agreement for the 176 acres that used to be the Ford Engine Plant No. 2 and its neighboring Cleveland Casting Plant, they haven’t denied it either. A lobbyist for the Browns included the Brook Park site in a presentation last month to state lawmakers who are reportedly being asked to help be part of a 50/50 public/private funding package for the Brook Park stadium.

In this confirmed official rendering, the proposed Brook Park stadium is placed approximately in the middle of the 176-acre site where the FirstEnergy transmission line is currently located (anonymous).

Typically, when someone secures a purchase agreement for commercial land, they pay anywhere from 1 percent to 3 percent of the agreed-upon sale price in earnest money. That holds the land while they conduct their due diligence on the site. It is not known for how much the land could be sold.

A consortium of Weston, Inc. of Warrensville Heights, the DiGeronimo Cos. of Independence and Scannell Properties of Indianapolis, IN bought the site as part of a 210-acre purchase for $31.5 million in 2021. They cleared the land and marketed it to new users as the Forward Innovation Center-West, 18300 Snow Rd. But no asking price has been publicized.

Cuyahoga County last year appraised the 176-acre site at $25,368,200 for tax purposes. In this case, that could translate into earnest money ranging from $250,000 to $750,000 — a small amount for a billionaire like Jimmy Haslam and his wife Dee. And in many purchase agreements, the earnest money is fully refundable if the prospective buyer decides to walk away. It is not known what the arrangement may be here.

On the other hand, buying and ultimately relocating a pair of high-voltage electric transmission lines would be serious business. Just over a year ago, FirstEnergy spent $700 per linear foot for a new transmission line in Lorain County.

Overhead view of the proposed Brook Park stadium site outlined in orange and the location of the FirstEnergy property within it (MyPlace.CuyahogaCounty.gov).

To reroute one of the transmission lines around the stadium site, over what appears to be about 4,300 feet of ground, could cost about $3 million. Rerouting two lines might cost double. The northern part of that ground is in the flight path for the east-west runway at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Here, the transmission line may have to be buried in a utility tunnel — potentially even more expensive.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the Browns’ 30-year lease at the city-owned stadium on Downtown Cleveland’s lakefront. Ironically, the facility used to be called FirstEnergy Stadium but the Browns and the city ended the naming rights deal on good terms.

The 1999-built stadium could be renovated for about $1.2 billion and get another 20 or 30 years out of it. But the Haslams reportedly first want to see if they can get public support for the Brook Park site, including a domed stadium costing about $2.5 billion.

According to a source close to the Browns who spoke to NEOtrans on the condition of anonymity, the only way the Haslams are going to get that public sector support is if they can get a significant contribution from the state. Unless and until that happens, the Haslams won’t be calling FirstEnergy. But they will keep Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb on speed dial.


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