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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
The Cleveland Browns, the professional football team Forbes estimates is worth $1.85 billion, is asking Franklin County and Columbus taxpayers to contribute roughly $5 million each toward building a training camp and a stronger fan base in central Ohio.
Bengals fans can't be too amused to think their hard-earned money might go to help the Dawgs practice. Other detractors see this as another giveaway to support a pet project.
County and city officials, however, see benefits to a partnership with the Browns, who also would chip in $5 million toward the $15 million to $17 million facility. Amenities would include natural grass and artificial-turf fields and a 45,000-square-foot building with a gymnasium and fitness center. This would allow the city to upgrade a replacement for its Tuttle Park recreation center near Ohio State University; that 15,000-square-foot building dates to 1974.
The county is eyeing better space to provide residents job training, while Columbus would gain a new gym (open even during the Browns' three-week camp), along with room for sports leagues, after-school activities and such.
A similar proposal earlier this year died after the Columbus Partnership, an organization of CEOs from leading businesses and institutions, withdrew its request for state aid, facing backlash from northern Ohio lawmakers. Rep. Mike Dovilla, a Republican from Berea, where the Browns have held camp since 1992, called it a "money grab."
Details later emerged that the Browns had expected Columbus and Franklin County to pay $15 million to build their training facility. The calculus for that public investment included sales and bed taxes generated from visitor spending, as well as the city receiving income-tax revenue from players' salaries while in Columbus. But oops, players' get lower rates during camp.
Though resurrected, city and county officials say the proposal is not a done deal. That's good, because elected officials should use this time to address questions and make a case for any public investment.
Start here: Given the backroom-dealing that went into the Nationwide Arena purchase -- the public ended up buying it even after voters said no five times to a publicly funded arena -- why should residents have faith that this latest publicly funded sports-facility plan is sound?
Since this is a city-owned park, what would county residents get for their $5 million? How much in sales tax realistically would be collected?
If the Browns were not looking to set up camp here, would the city and county even contemplate a $17 million expansion of Tuttle Park? The city spent $7.2 million to rebuilding a 25,000-square-foot Glenwood recreation center.
How much will the extended facility cost in operation and maintenance?
Finally, city Auditor Hugh Dorrian has warned of an economic slowdown, Gov. John Kasich sees the state on the verge of a recession. And the county could see a hit of $20 million a year because of a federal decision that bars sales taxes on some Medicaid services. How do the city and county justify spending $5 million each, or possibly $7 million from Columbus, for sports?
No crystal ball may be needed to see how this could end. Politifact.com took a look at a $10 million-plus deal Richmond, Va., made to lure the Washington Redskins' summer training camp to its city (at http://bit.ly/2dFw1Np). It concludes: "Sponsorships and other revenues from the site haven't met expectations," leaving the city to pick up payments.
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