Editor’s note: The original piece that ran in print attributed several quotes to Councilman Dave Greenspan. The corrected version below has those quotes correctly attributed to Greater Cleveland Partnership’s president and CEO, Joe Roman.
By Nicole Hennessy
On the counters of liquor and convenience stores, pins free for the taking read “Vote no on sin tax.”
Comment sections on articles on the topic are full of taxpayers wondering why they should pay for the upkeep of the city’s sporting venues, questioning the value they add to surrounding communities with the same tenacity as getting potholes filled inspires.
Those for the proposed 20-year tax extension argue this tax is necessary to keep the area vibrant.
However, an opposition group in tow, the Coalition Against the Sin Tax, is urging a “no” vote on the tax extension. The group wants a year of studying alternative funding options to go toward updating the stadiums, including a higher tax on tickets; a regional tax that would have to be passed into law by the state; or team leases that expire when the allocated taxes do, so negotiations could take place each time, all of which would likely take longer than a year to establish if agreed upon.
The counterarguments to these suggestions remain: Having a sports team or multiple teams is a competitive amenity that other cities wouldn’t hesitate to attract in the interests of their own economic standing.
Only 15 cities have a major league baseball, basketball and football team, and at a presentation at Fairview Park’s City Hall on March 20, Cuyahoga County Councilman Dave Greenspan (District 1) presented a information series explaining to residents why that’s important.
As he leaned informally on a table, he greeted residents as they took their seats.
An excise tax – which means the tax is not based on a percentage but is a flat rate – on cigarettes and alcohol would raise an estimated $270 million over 20 years. This would come from tax including 4.5 cents per pack of cigarettes, 1.5 cents per can of beer, 6 cents per bottle of wine and $3 per gallon of hard liquor.
“The state charges more on those products, the federal government charges more on those products; and so even though it is an additional tax (in Cuyahoga County), it’s still relatively low compared to the taxes that are already on these products,” explained Joe Roman, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership.
Continuing, he addressed concerns that taxpayers are paying for multibillion-dollar businesses to operate while paying millionaire players, explaining that the teams are responsible for repairs or projects that cost up to $500,000.
Urging compliance for the sake of economic development less than a year after the Ohio Casino Control Commission built a skywalk segregating downtown casino customers from surrounding businesses, just down the street from Progressive Field, proponents of Greater Cleveland’s vibrancy maintain this tax will advance the region.
East 4th Street’s active nightlife scene, as part of the Gateway District, is the go-to example of how local sports teams help improve and bring customers to surrounding businesses, lights strung across the pedestrian-only street illuminating a nightlife that exists there.
Roman also pointed out the economic impact the stadiums have on businesses in every area in Northeast Ohio, such as bars and restaurants, which attract customers who watch games there.
If the continuation passes, the funds from the sin tax will go toward major updates to the stadiums and Quicken Loans arena, which, if not completed, would be the equivalent of landlords letting his or her houses fall into disrepair and contracts lapse, Councilman Dale Miller (District 2) explained.
Roman also asked, frankly, “Do you like these teams? Do you want to keep them here?” illustrating that the bottom line is that if Cleveland won’t invest in them, another city will.
Then, at the last minute, Miller jumped in, explaining that the average lifetime of a sports facility is 30 years, putting a focus on maintaining aging stadiums rather than rebuilding or losing teams.
“I think that in Greater Cleveland, with good maintenance, we might be able to get to 40, maybe 50 (years),” he said. “Whenever you start thinking about new facilities, it gets very expensive and it gets a little bit dicey, and my goal is to push that day off down the road as far as possible.”