Polensek Says Browns Stadium Request “Insulting;” Team Willing To Front Money For Repairs, Be Reimbursed Later
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CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Cleveland Browns Stadium is starting to show its age and needs a few repairs.
The Browns hired Cleveland based Osborne Engineering to assess the structural state of the stadium and the news wasn’t all good.
Osbourne recommended that the cracks that have formed in the concrete risers within the seating bowl be patched and sealed and that rusted metal seat stanchions need to be replaced or the seats all together should be replaced.
The Browns are going the least expensive route and will replace the stanchions but keep the existing seat backs and bottoms.
In addition portions of the plazas that surround the stadium are also in need of repair.
The total price tag for the work is estimated at 5.8 million.
The team would like the work done as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the stadium and expense.
A report in Thursday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer said that the Browns have asked the city for an advance on the $850,000 annual repair contributions that it makes for the next six years.
Cleveland city councilman Mike Polensek joined Bull & Fox Thursday afternoon on 92.3 The Fan to react to the Plain Dealer report.
“We all know the Browns are a well oiled organization from the standpoint of finances,” Polensek said. “You would think just for once one of these team owners would step up and say ‘you know what, we’re going to put the money up front. We’re going to make the repairs that we feel are justified or needed and we’ll wait for the city to pay us over the 5-years.’
“It’s just appalling to me that every time you turn around that they want to take take take and yet we have all of these challenges in the city to provide services. Heaven forbid that they should step up to the plate and have to spend a little of their money.”
Polensek went on to lament the terms of the lease with the team which he feels are one sided.
“They took us to the cleaners, I acknowledge that,” Polensek said. “Anyone that has any common sense that would look at the lease would tell you it’s like these guys were wearing masks. The corporate community was insisting and the Plain Dealer at the time was insisting that we do this, this is the way that we keep the Browns.
“We might have gotten the brown and orange back to Cleveland but you know the citizens wound up getting black and blued in the process.”
Browns Senior Adviser to the President Fred Nance disagreed with Polensek’s view as well as the initial Plain Dealer report in a conversation with 92.3 The Fan’s Browns beat reporter Daryl Ruiter.
“The Browns are fronting the money,” Nance said. “The money that the Browns have asked the city to use here has already been set aside and by law can not be used for any other purpose. It’s simply a question of when it gets used. In order to get the repairs done in time for next season and because we’re using (Cleveland’s) bidding process, all of the money has to be set aside and earmarked up front.
“We are not asking the city to take a nickel out of their general fund. The Browns are saying ‘we’re going to front the $5 million until the sin tax money that was dedicated to this purpose 16-years ago starts to become available to you. As it starts becoming available, pay us back the money that we advanced you.”
As part of the stadium financing agreement between the NFL, the Browns, the city, the county and port authority that was struck in 1995, after the first $87 million of sin tax money was collected the next $29 million was to be set aside for capital repairs for Browns Stadium.
That fund is not scheduled to kick in for availability until August of this year.
The city also sets aside $850,000 a year for capital improvements – which is completely separate from the $29 million sin tax fund.
That is where the confusion comes in.
In 1990, Cuyahoga County voters approved a 15-year “sin tax” on cigarettes and alcohol to pay for the construction of what is now Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena. In 1995, residents voted to add another 10 years to the tax, which expires in 2015, to pay for the construction of Cleveland Browns Stadium while the original franchise was packing for Baltimore.
“As everyone knows the original lease between the city and the Browns is horrible, just absolutely horrible,” Polensek said. “They made the money, we paid the bills. I made the comment at the time (the stadium deal was reached) that we got the upper and lower end of the radiator hose out of that deal. We know that we have to make repairs to the building but none the less I these hard economic times that the city is faced with you’d think they would cut us a break?”
If you ask them, the Browns say that they have cut the city plenty of breaks.
The team claims that they have spent an estimated $75 million out of pocket on maintenance (which the team is responsible for) as well as capital improvements (which the city is responsible for), since the stadium opened in 1999.
“There’s a contract we know that we’re responsible to make repairs so that’s not in dispute,” Polensek said. “We have to make the repairs but also there has to be some accountability and I’d like to think that for just once, again I’d like to see someone step up to the plate at the Browns because we’ve seen this repeatedly whether it be at the Indians or over at (the Q) with the Cavs. What we have paid to have a ‘major league city’ at the same time we have minor league services or a minor league school system and we pay. I’d like to see some equity now and then.”
The stadium cost an estimated $290 million to build. The NFL kicked in $50-60 million of the cost and the rest was financed.
“The majority of Cleveland residents have never been to a Browns game because they can’t afford the tickets,” Polensek said. “I’m appreciative of everyone who does come down to support this team but it’s very hard to swallow. You put an inferior product on the field, you don’t step up to the plate.
“You’ve got to pry everything out of them and here again is a case where they are telling us ‘hey, we want the money up front. We want to do these repairs and we want the money now.’ I think we have a lot of questions to ask them when they come to the table.”
Nance said that the Browns understand the questions that need to be asked by local leaders and are more than willing to offer answers.
“I think that it’s simply a matter of the information being exchanged fully,” Nance said. “I have no quarrel with councilman Polensek. Councilman Polensek is a good man. He has questions and is trying to protect the public’s interest.
“The issue here is that he doesn’t have complete information and we’re going to get it to him.”