By Kevin Kelley
American Greetings announced Friday that it will move its world headquarters – and more than 1,000 jobs – to a new facility to be built at Crocker Park in Westlake.
“This would become the biggest employer in Westlake,” said Mayor Dennis Clough.
Westlake won a competition to land the greeting card maker that involved several Cuyahoga County cities as well as communities in Chicago. American Greetings announced it was considering a new headquarters once its current home of Brooklyn raised its income tax.
Westlake is offering American Greetings two major incentives to come to Crocker Park. First, the city will issue about $40 million in bonds over 30 years to pay for public improvements in and around Crocker Park. These improvements include roads, widening of existing roads, sidewalks, garages and lights. The bonds will be paid for with the property tax created by the new development.
Work on some public improvements may begin by late fall, the mayor said.
This tax increment financing must be approved by Westlake City Council and the Westlake Board of Education. Under the proposal, the school district will receive 100 percent of the property tax revenue it would have received had development continued at its current pace without the relocation by American Greetings.
Secondly, the city will grant American Greetings a tax credit equal to .5 percent of its income tax revenue over a 15-year period. American Greetings will guarantee a payroll within 10 percent of $155 million to receive the tax credit. City Council must approve the tax credit agreement.
Finally, American Greetings wants assurances from Stark Enterprises, the owner of Crocker Park, that the lifestyle and retail center will be fully developed by 2014. This additional development includes a hotel and additional retail space.
Clough said the requirement that the development f Crocker Park be completed within three years will create additional jobs and economic activity.
“That benefits the entire county,” Clough said, adding that he and other local leaders wanted American Greetings to stay in Cuyahoga County.
American Greetings will take up 600,000 square feet of office space in its new headquarters, which will be in a new building or buildings. One possible configuration is American Greetings taking the top five floors in a six-floor building, with retail space on the ground level.
Clough said that, besides Crocker Park itself, the new American Greetings headquarters is the biggest project in the city in the quarter-century he’s been mayor.
Clough said American Greetings’ move is the result of a partnership among the city, the school district, Stark Enterprises and the greeting card company.
“I’m very pleased that we were able to compete and able to keep them in Cuyahoga County and help the entire region,” Clough told West Life.
The mayor said a number of factors resulted in his city winning the coveted firm’s headquarters.
“I think Crocker Park has a unique environment that provides an urban environment in a suburban setting,” Clough told West Life. He added he thinks American Greetings’ executives and other workers want to live, work and shop in the same vicinity.
Crocker Park’s close proximity to Hopkins Airport and easy access to downtown Cleveland were also factors, the mayor said.
Westlake’s low tax rates, financial stability and top bond rating were also factors, Clough said. That rating will result in lower interest rates on the bonds that will be issued for the permanent improvements that are part of the agreement, he added.
Clough believes American Greetings’ move will be a catalyst for additional development along Crocker Road and elsewhere in Westlake.