The owners of the Cleveland Browns, Jimmy and Dee Haslam, are not going to do their best Art Modell impression and relocate the franchise to NFL-hungry areas such as San Antonio, Texas, Mexico City, Mexico, Memphis, Tennessee, or Birmingham, Alabama.
The Haslams have stated that the team will remain in Ohio. Just where is the big question?
What the Haslams actually want is to remain playing home games where they currently are in Cleveland Browns Stadium. Just with concessions. Their current lease does not expire until the end of 2028, but there are issues that the owners want to be addressed before then.
At a press conference on Monday, Jimmy Haslam stated:
“Our preference is to be on the lakefront, but we’ve got to see how things play out. It will be fluid and there will be bumps on the road and it may be different in three months than it is now.”
A new stadium has been mentioned in the recent past which could feature a dome. Other ideas thrown out have been to retrofit a dome over the current stadium outlay.
Not that a domed stadium on Lake Erie hasn’t been brought up before. In 1985, then-owner Modell had a proposal drawn up regarding building a domed stadium that would house both the Browns and the Cleveland Indians called the “Hexatron.” The main feature was a retractable roof. Public funding was sought in the neighborhood of $100 million, but the project barely got out of the planning stages.
What the Haslams have in mind is a mixed-use development project along the shores of Lake Erie which involves retail, offices, and some residential. But also in the $1 billion proposal would come major renovations to the current stadium.
Dee Haslam explained:
“We’re really working hard with the city and the county and the state to work out a plan to continue to develop and remodel our stadium on the lakefront.”
Another aspect of this project would include a land bridge that would link the lakefront to all portions of downtown Cleveland. Currently, State Route 2 divides the two. The land bridge would rise about the highway and connect the two.
The Ohio Department of Transportation has given Haslam Sports Group $2.5 million for a viability study. An additional $62 million has been offered by the Ohio House of Representatives for strictly the land bridge project, but when the state budget was unveiled in June this project was omitted.
Jimmy Haslam pointed out the nuances of getting public funding:
“Listen, when you work through a public process, it’s by nature and probably good that it’s messy, OK? It’s just going to be that way. There’s going to be bumps and bruises and it’s going to take some time and we have some time. The important thing is to get it right.”
This project is similar in nature to what is now a trend in the NFL with teams making their stadiums the centerpiece to an overall complex. It brings in tourism and spending in the immediate area. Plus, tenants involved pay a hefty price for the privilege to be part of the grand scheme.
Buffalo is smack in the middle of the new Highmark Stadium which includes a surrounding complex. The Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers both play at SoFi Stadium, which has an entertainment complex with a planned neighborhood. When Las Vegas built Allegiant Stadium for the Raiders, a sports and entertainment venue was concluded in the plans.
Although the Haslams did commit to the fact that the franchise would remain in Northeastern Ohio, there has not been confirmation that means remaining in the City of Cleveland.
The main issues are that the owners contend that the stadium is in need of extensive renovations plus upgrades.
The stadium opened in 1999 just in time for the new Browns to take the field. However, it is widely known that the project was finished very quickly in time for its first season. Over time, the push and haste for completion have led to structural problems.
According to Sean Walsh, who was part of the construction process:
“They cut a lot of corners too fast. A year to a year-and-a-half later, it would have been outstanding.”
There were multiple delays because of harsh winter conditions which eventually sped up the finished date.
“Pouring concrete when it’s zero out, trying to put irrigation and utilities in the ground when it’s zero out. It was put together fast-track and it’s falling apart.”
In 2018 an audit was performed by Capital Repair. They found the water system had been improperly installed during the initial construction phase. They also accessed that the lower bowl’s seating was situated overall with fair to poor sight lines.
Contracts for renovations begin several years before the lease expires, so the 2028 lease expiration date isn’t that far away. The price tag is not going to be pretty. Today, it is a different time with renovating stadiums with costs through the non-dome roof.
When the Haslams bought the Browns in 2012 from Randy Lerner, they began a renovation project which included high-def scoreboards, escalators, plus taking out 3,000 seats.
Then in June of 2022 $10.5 million in stadium projects were funded such as new signage, additional lighting, gutters, work on the heating system, new walkway ramps plus other concrete repairs. So far, none of these projects have been completed.
The new list of renovations and upgrades plus the lakefront complex seem to be the main focus now.
Dee Haslam added:
“The lakefront is just an important process. Outside of us (the Browns), the lakefront in Cleveland has to be developed. You need a vibrant city, that’s a really important part of who Cleveland should be. I think the connection bridge needs to happen, regardless of what happens with our stadium. That has to happen.”
Although the Haslams have confirmed that they have no intention of relocating the Browns to another city, it is not a certainty that they will remain in Cleveland either.
Their state-of-the-art training facility and practice complex is already located in Berea, Ohio which is just 23 minutes southwest.
Numerous NFL clubs do not have their home stadium in the city they represent.
The San Francisco 49ers play in Santa Clara, California, which is one hour away in San Jose. The Dallas Cowboys haven’t played in the City of Dallas for decades. First Texas Stadium was built in Irving, Texas beginning in 1971 while the new stadium is located in Arlington, Texas. The Buffalo Bills current and new stadium is in the town of Orchard Park, New York. The Miami Dolphins play in Miami Gardens, Florida 30 minutes north.
Both the New York Football Giants and New York Jets don’t even play in the State of New York much less New York City. The Giants moved into Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey beginning in 1976 as the Jets followed them in 1984.
These are just a few examples. There are others. The reasoning for building outside the city limits are numerous.
For one, land is a lot cheaper especially since a large tract is needed. Usually in rural county areas, property taxes are quite a bit less if the team wasn’t given a tax break to begin with. Then there is the traffic situation. When a franchise builds out, it is usually off the interstate so that the ingress and egress are a lot less congested and easy to find. Plus, parking is never an issue for vehicles and tour buses. Not to mention the outlying parcels can be regulated as to which restaurants and motels can purchase tracts.
The idea to leave the City of Cleveland is not new. Back in the 1980s. Modell had bought an abundance of land in Strongsville, Ohio with the idea that a new stadium might be built there. Eventually, all that excess land was sold as residential property.
When the Haslams stated that the Browns are staying “here” that could quickly change to “there” in the comfy confines somewhere in Northeast Ohio.
Lakewood and Bay Village to the west with Bratenahl and Willowick to the east reside along the lakefront. Rural communities such as Dover, Newburgh Heights, Brooklyn, and Parma all offer what all the other NFL clubs have discovered with lots of open land. Plus, the most sensible place for a new stadium is in Berea. And Columbus is certainly not off any list as a possibility.
That was a $314 million project with a similar mixed-use development entitled Astor Park. The stadium is owned by a special district governed by Franklin County and the City of Columbus which hold a 30-year lease with the Crew.
The Haslams have taken that successful experience in Columbus and gotten it done quickly without many issues. What was shown was that extra money could be made surrounding any stadium if the plans are right.
At the NFL owner’s meetings this past March, the Haslams did discuss their stadium issues. Both Jimmy and Dee stated they would prefer to remain where they are and perform renovations along with tying in the lakefront project.
Jimmy Haslam said:
“These things take time. The only thing Dee and I would say for sure is we’re not leaving northeastern Ohio. OK, that’s for sure.”
This is a strong statement to remain in Ohio, but not necessarily in the City of Cleveland.
Either way with either a new stadium or renovations of the existing facility, at no time have the Haslams discussed funding any of these projects all by themselves.
While they have pitched a $1 billion lakefront complex, they have indicated that these projects should be at the cost of the county, state, city, and taxpayers in what Jimmy indicated as “a public-private partnership.” He offered:
“We are all talking to (these public entities) on a regular basis.”
If the Haslams were paying for it all, then there is no conversation. The reporting would simply be what they have decided – and where.
As it is now, the “where” is the most unknown.