The Progressive Field Boondoggle
October 20, 2021
Dear City Councilperson Griffin and County Councilperson Conwell,
RE: The Progressive Field Boondoggle
I am writing to express my concerns about the Progressive Field Deal. My concerns are shared by my family and many people I know who live in the City of Cleveland.
First and foremost this deal is being rammed through the City and County councils without the proper degree of public scrutiny, evaluation, consideration of alternatives and debate. There are way too many unanswered questions. In particular, is this the best use of a massive amount of taxpayer money at the City, County, State and Federal level? (The bonds are Federal Tax exempt.)
Is this monumental investment of public money going to get an acceptable return to the public? That is a question that does not yet have a clear answer, given the rush to judgment that seems to be taking place.
As such, what’s the hurry? We will have a new mayor and city council in a few short months, and the stadium lease is not soon to expire and can be extended to provide time for proper consideration of the public’s input.
Why not put this matter to a vote? What exactly is the City afraid of?
To the public there is simply not a requisite degree of transparency and accountability in the information that has been publicly available to date. The deal is presented as “take it or leave it,” with the underlying threat that if the deal is not accepted as is, it is a foregone conclusion that the Guardians will leave Cleveland. Is it at all fair to subject taxpayers to this degree of manipulation?
Is this democracy in action?
Is this the employer that we can all trust to be loyal to the best interests of our community after we invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a spiffed up stadium and new office building that we maintain, yet only a small percentage of those taxpayers who fund this enterprise can actually afford to see a high-priced game or benefit directly from the economic activity? And how exactly did we get stuck with the bill for maintenance? Is that usual and customary in these types of deals?
The deal is financially opaque, especially because the Guardians predictably won’t open their books. Would you if you were making a killing? There is no way to “follow the money” and cash flows to evaluate the purported economic benefits to the community compared to the economic benefits that accrue to the owners, players, team executives and powerbroker attorneys.
There is also no way to understand if many of the jobs provided pay a livable wage with benefits. Is it the best use of public funds to subsidize a professional sports enterprise that pays mostly seasonal and minimum wages with no benefits, when those public funds could easily be used to encourage employers to locate and prosper here that do not keep the people who live here in poverty?
It is not at all clear either that the public’s interest will be protected after this deal is cut. Who will be minding the store and how will they be assuring that the public’s money is being spent wisely?
It is also not well established that the economic benefits of having this team here are as they are purported to be. It would be wise to engage the services of expert economists who study these deals to inform the City and the public as to the real benefits and detriments of having this team here. It is not at all settled that the discretionary spending people engage in on this form of entertainment could not be spent in other ways that deliver a better return on its investment for the community.
Meanwhile, we are the poorest big city in the United States, one of the most violent, lead poisons our kids, the schools underperform, infrastructure in many neighborhoods is crumbling, the poor and elderly can’t presently get affordable internet, the tree canopy that protects people from the climate crisis shrinks and people go hungry.
But a billionaire and the team’s wealthy cohorts get hundreds of millions of dollars of OUR MONEY to play with without full accountability to the people paying two thirds of the tab.
Proponents make a big point of the value of the civic pride a community has in a winning professional sports franchise. First of all, a winning sports franchise of any consistency has been impossible to come by in this smaller market. We have had sports franchises in this community for decades, but the City of Cleveland continues to lose population and suffers from a host of negative quality of life metrics. Having these franchises here has done little to improve the lives of those that can’t ever hope to afford to enjoy this form of entertainment.
For me and many that I know who live here, a form of civic pride that would hold the most value would be to live in a city that puts its people before the profit outside interests drain from the City.
A form of monumental civic pride would be to live in a city that feeds its hungry, has ample affordable and safe housing for its residents; especially those that are aging, encourages its employers to pay a living wage, educates its children well, houses its homeless, has an expansive and inexpensive rapid transit system, polices its neighborhoods effectively, protects the most vulnerable from the ravages of the climate crisis and delivers sustainable, responsive and high quality city services to a healthy and prosperous citizenry.
What exactly is the economic value of that degree of civic pride compared to that of a professional sports franchise, especially one that strains to consistently have a competitive team? That’s an analysis that needs to be completed.
The secretive process of putting this deal together to date has been a mystery; a magical sleight of hand illusion that the citizenry is apparently just supposed to be amazed by, and it is time to thoroughly involve the public in determining whether the proposed Progressive Field deal is truly in the public’s interest.
I respectfully request that this letter be entered into the record as public comment in both the City and County Council’s deliberations on this matter.
(Original art by J.E. Hargate)