Members of Greater Cleveland Congregations, including rabbis and synagogue members, comprised what Cuyahoga County Council said was the largest turnout it had seen at a council meeting Feb. 14 to oppose a proposed Quicken Loans Arena renovation deal.
GCC members made their arguments on the grounds that a county in debt and a city with a recent income tax increase should not put taxpayer money into a sports arena without any sort of funding for public services in return. Those for the deal said that the renovation would bring jobs and major events to Cleveland, and help ensure that the Cleveland Cavaliers do not leave the city when their contract is up.
About 150 representatives from GCC were at the meeting, held at the county building in downtown Cleveland. After hearing arguments for and against The Q deal for an hour and a half, the council referred the deal to a committee that will deliberate beginning at 2 p.m. Feb. 21.
Rabbi Joshua Caruso, of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, spoke in front of the 11-member council and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, as did Donna Weinberger of Kol HaLev in Pepper Pike.
“With the Cavs, we are all in; with this deal, we are not,” said Caruso, pointing to questions he had about taxpayer money, the deal and the recent Cleveland tax increase.
He asked, “Why was this money needed if the city has access to the tens of millions of dollars available for The Q deal? Why did the county, city and the Cavs withhold information about the pending Q deal from the public until after the vote on the (city) income tax?”
The Q deal was initially discussed publicly in December 2016, but Budish said the county has been negotiating it for more than a year. It would cost the county $140 million in bonds, and estimates of the repayment costs, which include interest, are $282 million. The Cavs would finance half of the project to reconstruct, renovate and upgrade The Q, yet would not incur the same interest fees as the county.
Budish told the Cleveland Jewish News that many protestors at the meeting had “significant misunderstanding” of the deal, in that if it does not go through, the bond money cannot be transferred to other county needs.
“This is one of the most public- friendly deals anywhere,” Budish said. “Would I like the Cavaliers to fund the whole project? Sure, but that’s not reality.”
GCC argued that considering taxes from individuals will also go into funding the upgrade, a community equity fund could be created to go along with investments in The Q, to directly fund community improvement.
Weinberger, a mental health therapist, discussed community problems like opioid addiction, mental health crises and mass incarceration as issues GCC works on, however, she said they are told there is not enough money to fund them, which made her believe that spending taxpayer money on the Q deal is “unconscionable.”
“It’s not the best we can do to bring vitality and growth to all of our neighborhoods,” she said.
While GCC showed that other major cities have included a community fund as part of financing sports facilities, Budish said that in the other cities, entirely new sports facilities were built and new taxes were put toward them. In this case, there is no new tax. Moreover, funds coming from tourism and Q admissions are nontransferable to other city needs.
“The bulk of the funds being used are coming directly from this project and by law cannot be used for health and human services,” Budish said. “If we don’t do this deal, there is no $70 million pot that can be used for other things.”
Budish also expressed concerns that the Cavs could either leave Cleveland or demand an entirely new facility in 2027 when their lease expires. The Q employs 2,300 people and generates $20 million yearly in taxes, according to Budish, which does not include additional taxes from nearby restaurants and hotels.
“Looking at it very conservatively, it is a very big economic generator, and if that building and the team are gone in 2027, it will have a huge detrimental impact on jobs in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County,” Budish said.
Marcia Levine, a Fairmount Temple member, said she was at the meeting because she thought The Q deal could be a good opportunity for the city and county to directly spread the wealth, rather than trickling down.
“It’s not to say our representatives are not doing a good job, they are, but there’s always room for improvement, there is always room for meeting more needs,” Levine said.
Rabbi Steve Segar of Kol HaLev, also contended that GCC presence at the meeting was to insist that elected officials allow the public a say in the matter.
“Right now the decision is only being made by leaders in the political and the business community, and they have a right to be involved, but the general public also has a right to be involved,” Segar said.