CLEVELAND - Desperate to get the Cleveland Browns back to town, city leaders signed what many call a lopsided lease with the team in 1996.
The city is trying to refinance the $132 million it still owes on the $300 million-stadium, and on Tuesday the team announced it is selling the naming rights to FirstEnergy. That’s a deal the city of Cleveland will not get any money from, which is spelled out in a 97-page lease signed 17 years ago.
Voters approved a sin tax on alcohol and cigarettes to build and do ongoing repairs to Cleveland Browns Stadium. If voters don't renew that tax, which expires in 2015, the city, not the Browns is on the hook for $13 million a year to pay the loan and perform upkeep.
"If we don't get the sin tax extended, it's going to come right out of the general operating fund of the city of Cleveland. That's police, fire, EMS, street repairs, parks and playgrounds. That's where that money will come from," said Cleveland City Councilman Mike Polensek.
Polesenk is not armchair quarterbacking the lease; he voted against it in 1996.
Polensek said he hopes the Browns new owner, Jimmy Haslam, opens the door for talks about how to help Cleveland's overwhelming obligation to pay for the Browns stadium.
"The NFL cut a tremendous deal with the Cleveland Browns at the time and it's clearly a one-sided, lopsided deal," Polensek said.
While fans focus on winning, it's not lost on Polensek that the stadium, which gets its power supply from Cleveland Public Power, is now named after another power company.
"It is ironic that they're going to have a name on our building where we supply the electricity. Only in Cleveland," Polensek said.
Those at Tuesday’s news conference said they would not discuss the terms and conditions of the naming rights agreement, so there is no telling if that money could be used to bring more events to the stadium.
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