OLMSTED TOWNSHIP – Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners will be voting later this month to determine the fates of the newly proposed convention center and Medical Mart, which would be funded by a sales tax increase.
The city of Cleveland and Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. have proposed a joint plan for a new convention center, which would be publicly-owned, and also a nearby Medical Mart, whose ownership is undetermined, that would offer showroom space and the opportunity for exhibition in the health care industry. To fund the project, the Commissioners have proposed a quarter-percent sales tax increase to raise the current sales tax rate to 7.75 percent. The tax increase would raise $350 million to partially fund the project.
The Board of Commissioners’ Web site Media Advisories section (last updated in March) did not have any information about this proposal, but the only Commissioner of the three so far opposed to the proposal did comment.
Peter Lawson Jones stated, “Although I am in favor of the concept of a Medical Mart and a convention center, I am opposed to using the sales tax prior to a vote of the people to generate revenue a year to a year and a half before it would be needed to pay down the debt on such a facility.”
Jason Werner agrees with the Commissioner and further adds, “If this is so important, let the medical community – the experts – work on this and pay for it on their own.” He continues, “Furthermore, why not hear what the citizens have to say about it in a vote?”
Although Mr. Werner is a candidate for the 10th Congressional District of Ohio, which is a position in federal government having little to do with county government; he is greatly concerned about his county’s economy, unemployment rate, waning population, education systems, and depression.
Mr. Werner reasons, “The city of Cleveland needs all the help it can get, and what won’t help is higher taxes. Higher taxes will not draw new residents and new businesses – jobs – to the area.” Mr. Werner adds, “Problem is, people often get cut off when they use that P word – privatize – in our depressed county.”
The specific plan is for the County to provide a venue – a building – where the Medical Mart can operate its business, which is where Mr. Werner disagrees. He asserts, “Basically, our county government is proposing to pay the rent of a corporation using taxpayer dollars.” He adds, “When you start your own business, you need to pay your own rent, which is called capitalism. Government providing the venue for a corporation is called communism.”
Jason Werner also argues that the County’s proposal discriminates against the banking industry, which he believes is a strong industry in Cleveland, Ohio, as banks would be excluded from competing for a $350 million loan. Instead, the taxpayers will be forced to pay for these facilities.
Mayor Frank Jackson said in an online video*, “It’d (the proposal) be good for the future of the city of Cleveland.”
Mr. Werner argues, “Of course he would say that; the County would be paying for a new business in his own city – politics as usual.”
Jimmy Dimora, County Commissioner said in a similar online video, “For us it would be a win-win for the Medical Mart to be located in Cuyahoga County.” He also stated that the county would benefit from this because the county already has so many amenities. Mr. Werner argues that even the current residents like these amenities so much that they are leaving Cleveland and the county in droves – maybe there is more to the problem.
Joe Roman, CEO of Greater Cleveland Partnership said in an online video found on the same Web site, “Our downtown has seen a myriad of projects built in the 1990s, which have paid off between Gateway and the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame.” He continues, “It builds off what is really a pretty hot market in downtown Cleveland right now between our residential market beginning to click as well as some of the new entertainment areas around Playhouse Square and around East 4th Street. I really do think the Medical Mart is the most important project we’ve talked about for downtown Cleveland.”
Mr. Werner repugns, “A hot market: Are you kidding me? Our population is decreasing and jobs are leaving Greater Cleveland, especially in the years he mentioned.”
Gateway will be paid off in the 2020s and Mr. Werner reminds the projects have further paid off so much that the areas’ tax increases have forced businesses and residents out of the city and county. He says, “Our residential market is so hot that Ohio is third in the Nation in foreclosures and the County is first in the state. I don’t think we need to be hearing how hot our residential market is right now considering the facts.”
Cuyahoga County is also the highest taxed county in the state.
Mayor Deborah Sutherland of Bay Village, OH said in a similar online video, “We really feel that this is a perfect marriage between the strength in our region, which is the medical field, and the Medical Mart, which is really going to give us an opportunity to show off what we do here.”
Mr. Werner contends, “True, but our government does not provide more than $350 million in buildings for them, and they’re doing just fine.”
Merchandise Mart officials favor putting a Medical Mart into several floors of the old Higbee building at Public Square and building the Convention Center behind Tower City. Both buildings are owned by Forest City Enterprises. Forest City officials have said they are eager to negotiate.
Mr. Werner insists, “Of course Forest City is eager to negotiate. They would essentially be receiving guaranteed rent from our generous government.”
Fred Nance, Chairman of Greater Cleveland Partnership, raising his hands to the sky said in a similar online video, “We know people come from all over the world to get their health care here in Cleveland, Ohio …”
Mr. Werner counters, “True, but people are not coming here pulled by a government-owned and -operated facility. In fact, residents and businesses are leaving the city.”
Meetings will be held by the County at Cleveland Public Library to hear the public’s views this Thursday, the 19th and the 26th at 11 a.m. The Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the 26th. Jason Werner urges residents of the county to attend the meetings to encourage the Commissioners to move to allow residents to vote on the proposed tax increase in November instead of forcing the tax now more than a year before anything will even begin.
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