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by ROLDO BARTIMOLE Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008 at 3:59 PM

SUPER-VULTURES & MEGA-VAMPIRES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A Story Not Available At Our Bought Newsmedia

The Greater Cleveland Partnership with help from its subsidiary the Downtown Cleveland Alliance works very hard to keep those nasty panhandlers off the street in the front of the old Higbee's building.

That was not the case last Thursday.

In fact, our community's biggest Moochers were on full display at Higbee's before an attentive news media as Squire, Sanders & Dempsey Managing Partner Fred Nance tried mightily to peddle a medical mart and convention center to be built on Forest City land costing $40 million. Thanks, Uncle Sam. (From the coverage I've seen Nance must have done a hell of a job, Brownie. The news media were peddling his wares for him.)

The Partnership paid for the study selecting the Tower City site. The Partnership does not come with clean hands.

The price of the deal – financed almost totally with public funds – had jumped from $400 million to $526 million.

(What a bonanza for those who want to give contracts to friends. This makes the allegedly criminal house enticements for Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo just petty and stupid, damaging to the community but not as ruinous as the Nance deal.)

In other words, they've already added $126 million to a deal that in total would have cost at least $1 billion anyway. It will now cost more than $1 billion dollars for this essentially unnecessary construction. How do I figure that?

Just as easily as Nance's smooth explanation of why this is a good deal for all taxpayers of Cuyahoga County.

The cost is $526 million to be financed by the quarter-percent sales tax added by Commissioners Tim Hagan, Jimmy Dimora and Peter Lawson Jones without a vote by the public. (Jones didn't vote for it because they didn't need his vote but he's for it now. The same goes for his November opponent Bay Village Republican Mayor Deborah Sutherland whose dodgy advice is to be "extremely careful" with the deal, but she is not opposed to the project.)

That $526 million will not appear magically. Cuyahoga County will have to borrow the money (most of it - $461 million - needed quickly for construction). With interest until 2027 - duration of the bonds - we will have paid likely double - or nearly double - the $526-million.

There's your Billion dollars, folks.

Added to that, the County will pay MMPI (Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc.) $103 million to operate the convention center. Nance made a big thing of MMPI, unlike Gateway, taking on cost overruns and capital expenses but didn’t mention the $103 million taxpayers will pay. Nor did he allow for any changes in structuring the deal as were common at Gateway to the public's greatly added cost.

Nance asked Wachovia Investment managing director of finance Tim Offtermatt, also a Gateway financial expert, to the podium to testify to the interest earning power of County bonds. Offtermatt did. But I asked Offtermatt whether County bonds also had to PAY interest and wouldn't it about double the cost of the project. "Quite likely," Offtermatt said.

I asked him, "How much are the bonds going to cost?" He responded, "Who knows." I then said, "Well, you know what the interest is going to be on the income (from bond money before its expenditure on construction)."

Nance quickly pulled Offtermatt from the podium. "Why can't the financial guy respond? He knows the numbers," I said to Nance.

Nance had other ideas. He compared the bonding of this project to buying a house. You don't say the house cost the selling price plus the interest paid over years, he said.

"But this isn't a house," I told him. "It does mean you are expending a billion dollars of public money, aren't you? Aren't you?"

Nance said that that was "over 20 years." It is still one billion dollars in public money.

Nance was a bit testy. He immediately tried to suppress questioning by cautioning about "time." I told him that he had spent a lot of time telling us what he wanted to talk about, now it was our turn.

And get this. I asked Nance how many floors of the Higbee building - site of the "city-saving" medical mart - will MMPI utilize? His answer: Two floors. Two floors? Yes, "part of the first floor," now occupied by The Partnership, and a basement area, some occupied by theaters. Nance also didn't know of the asbestos situation in the Higbee's building.

Two floors? Then where is all this businesses from medical sources going to be. They've been telling us a medical mart is the medicine that is going to bring us gobs of money and, of course, JOBS. All on two floors?

The County will pay only $1 for the Higbee's MMPI site. However, taxpayers will pay to construct the offices for the medical mart & MMPI.

This deal that Nance and The Partnership is offering is much, much worse than anyone could have thought, especially in tough economic times.

Are there no community needs more urgent for such massive public subsidies?

And get this - The Partnership and Nance want an increase in the bed tax of 2 percent. That will bring in another $50 million of public funds to be used for the two-floor medical mart. The Partnership and Nance also want $2.5 million a year of the present bed tax to be diverted to the project, adding another $50 million over 20 years. Nance said County Commissioners have "statutory" right to raise this tax without a public vote.

Oh, boy, one more dodge around County voters!

Who says you can't squeeze blood from a turnip? Nance and The Partnership can always squeeze more money for their private needs.

Could our suffering Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA), now cutting services that now are more needed than ever, use these public monies? You bet.

Meanwhile, your sales tax "contribution" is piling up in the County cashbox. That may be true for years before construction starts.

Nance already said that the tax will bring in more money. Of course it will continue to rise, as prices of everything rise, so do your sales taxes, a continually expanding public "contribution."

Nance gave great emphasis to the "connectivity" of this site. He meant that the convention center will be connected to Tower City, to the Ritz (owned by Sam & the boys) and Renaissance hotels, to retail (also owned by Forest City) and the airport via RTA.

But what about the "connectivity" of The Partnership, Cleveland's corporate leadership (can we really use that word?) and the Forest City Crowd – Sam Miller and Al Ratner and families.

What about the "connectivity" of Hagan defending and sending former county administrator Dennis Madden – under sexual harassment embarrassment – to MMPI. Connected, ah yes. Doesn't this shift of Madden suggest the same old Commissioner's game of playing politics in the worse corrupting sense?

What about the "connectivity" of the hypocritical Hagan – he who seeps arrogance from every pore – with MMPI's president Christopher Kennedy, son of Robert Kennedy, and the very close family ties of Hagan and the Kennedys.

And get this, Nance – huckstering all the way – actually crowed about the committee's make-up – all members of The Partnership!

I almost burst out laughing as he praised members, including David Daberko, killer of National City Bank, and Henry Meyer, slayer of KeyBank. We need to take advice from these guys? The Partnership didn’t include a single public official. How fraudulent can the process here become?

And how glowing could salesman Nance be? "We are very happy to report that we are very pleased with our recommendation... and very confident and comfortable with the results," he told news people.

Well, la-di-da.

I'd be happy and pleased, comfortable and confident, too, if I were Fred Nance, Managing Partner of Squires, Sanders & Dempsey.

You know which law firm will be handling the bond issue for the County? You can take this to the bank – Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, the same law firm that's handling the business for the County and The Partnership now. Indeed, Nance told me so. Wonder if the FBI or the PD might be interested in this "connectivity" of this conflict of interest?

County Commissioners have already guaranteed to pay up to $175,000 to Nance for his convention center work.

Is there "connectivity" between this fee and his leading the chorus for The Partnership? No, conflict of interest, huh?

Some back scratching is acceptable; some is not.

Now here's "connectivity" par excellence. Nance must have had this on his mind as he came up with the "connectivity" doctrine.

What is also disturbing as hell is that once again the entire massive tax bill is being picked up by residents and taxpayers of Cuyahoga County.

Where is the regionalism in paying off these massive projects? The area's major projects - Gateway, Browns Stadium, and now the medical mart and new convention center – are all financed on the backs or out of the pockets of Cuyahoga County and Cleveland taxpayers.

The rest of the region pays nothing.

Thanks, Hagan, Dimora and Jones. Thanks Nance, Daberko, Meyer and The Partnership. (Joe Roman – The Partnership’s $426,000 a year leader remained in the back of the room during the press conference. He could never do the smooth job Nance performed on the media.)

One of the major reasons The Partnership, Nance said, rejected the Mall and present site of the city's convention center for the new project was the issue of water level.

I also asked Nance, as a principal in the construction of the Browns Stadium, what the water level had been there since it was much closer to Lake Erie than the present convention center. Nance punted. Water levels differ by location, he said.

So you can build a massive stadium, fill it with more than 70,000 people (many overweight, I believe) on land nearer to Lake Erie but in the vicinity of the old convention center site, further inland, the water level won’t support building.

The chosen water site at the Cuyahoga River – and conveniently owned by the Miller/Ratner gang and connected to its real estate center - has no water problem for a new expensive convention center apparently. It has been studied, said Nance.

Nance said that the project would include 925 parking spaces. Not much and suggestive to me that we (the taxpayers) will be building another freebie garage. Nance also mentioned that it would be nice to have a new hotel, too. Columbus, for example, has 3,000 parking spaces at its convention center. He also seemed to brag that 60 per cent of the exhibit area would have 45 feet in height. That’s good but the I-X Center goes 45 to 77 feet. What happens to the I-X, city property, not to mention the old convention center?

The PD, which went whole hog on the County corruption issue, has been hiding on this matter. It's coverage is deadly dull, deadly irrelevant and deadly wide of the mark.

And so it is for this city, which Forbes magazine last week placed in its list of top ten of the America's Fastest Dying Cities. Maybe not dying fast. Certainly it is a city on life support because of the self-interested decisions of its business leadership.

Cleveland needs urgent care that it won't get at any medical mart.

From Cool Cleveland contributor Roldo Bartimole

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