Cleveland Browns: Is the Owner-in-Waiting Trying to Put a Lid on City Officials?

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Cleveland Browns: Is the Owner-in-Waiting Trying to Put a Lid on City Officials?
Adding a retractable roof to Cleveland Browns Stadium, as suggested in this 2006 rendering by Robert Corna Architects, is an idea that gained renewed interest after a Sept. 19 meeting between Browns prospective owner Jimmy Haslam III and city officials. But was Haslam just playing to the crowd?

Northeast Ohio sports fans are abuzz after prospective Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III said he would bring in three prominent stadium architectural firms to suggest changes to the city-owned lakefront stadium. He said changes could include putting a roof on the 13-year-old, open-air facility.

But did Haslam suggest the roof to put a lid on any push-back from some city officials who have long wanted a covered stadium?

Haslam met with city officials Sept. 19. At the meeting, city councilman Mike Polensek, long a supporter of adding a roof to Cleveland Browns Stadium, asked Haslam how he could make greater use of the stadium. The facility now sits empty more than 350 days per year, as it’s used only for 10 Browns games plus a few concerts a year.

“We want to use that facility as much as we possibly can,” said Haslam, who has shown interest in getting involved in the city’s lakefront development plans, including restaurants, shops, offices, hotels and housing. “We certainly want to use it more than we can now. Anything that’s helps us do that we’ll certainly take a look at.”

But Crain’s Cleveland Business assistant editor Joel Hammond said during a Sept. 19 interview on 92.3-FM The Fan that Haslam was probably trying to be responsive to Polensek, the city’s longest-serving active councilperson (35 years). Hammond said Haslam was probably prepped by Browns general counsel Fred Nance to expect Polensek’s question.

Nance is very familiar with city officials and the NFL. Hired by the city, Nance and his law firm negotiated agreements with the NFL that guaranteed a return of the Browns to Cleveland after Art Modell moved the team in 1995. He was also one of five finalists to replace NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 2006.

David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
Browns owner-in-waiting Jimmy Haslam III is considering changes to the 13-year-old, city-owned stadium.

Hammond’s suggestion is backed up by an Aug. 30 interview of Haslam by Mary Kay Cabot, Browns beat writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“On if he’s contemplated putting a dome on the stadium: ‘We have not. We have spent some time at the stadium. We’ll have three really well-known stadium architects walk through. I do think there’s some enhancements for the fans that need to be done. What, I don’t know. The scoreboard is the obvious thing to look at. We want to give our fans a great venue.’”

In 2006, Polensek worked with Cleveland architect Bob Corna to develop conceptual plans and cost estimates for adding a retractable roof to Cleveland Browns Stadium (see rendering above).

Corna’s $90 million plan included a roof suspended from four pylons built outside the perimeter of the stadium. However, mayor Frank Jackson and city council president Marty Sweeney (both are still in office) did not support Polensek’s call for an exploratory committee to examine the feasibility of adding the stadium roof.

If the architects to be hired by Haslam say the roof is feasible, Haslam's preference of selling the naming rights to the stadium could be a revenue source. For example, Ford Co. paid $40 million over 20 years for Detroit’s stadium. H.J. Heinz Co. paid $57 million over 20 years for Pittsburgh’s. Lucas Oil paid $122 million over 20 years for Indianapolis’. Bank of America will pay $140 million over 20 years for Charlotte’s. And Minneapolis’ new stadium could rake in $15 million per year over 30 years, or $400 million.

What kind of events can be attracted to an enclosed Cleveland Browns Stadium? Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, which is next to the city’s new convention center (like Cleveland’s), will host 21 events before the 2013 NFL season that are projected to fill at least 10 percent of the facility’s 63,000-seat capacity.

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