Cleveland Browns owners reportedly buying nearly 200 acres in Brook Park
The owners of the Cleveland Browns are reportedly purchasing 176 acres of land in Brook Park.
That's according to Northeast Ohio transportation and real estate blogger Ken Prendergast, who first reported the deal Thursday on the Neotrans blog. He said this was somewhat inevitable: the Haslams wanted more space than the city could provide due to submerged land leases along the lakefront that must be owned by Cleveland or the state.
"They knew that they were having a difficult time with the Haslams," Prendergast said. "The Haslams wanted some things that the city of Cleveland wasn't prepared to give them and based on the number of, the population of the city of Cleveland that were going to games, I could kind of understand why they weren't willing to give them everything."
A study cited by Cleveland Scene last year found that only 15.5% of attendees at Browns games live in Cleveland.
The Haslam Sports Group has a contract to buy the parcel nine miles southwest of Cleveland, about 1,000 feet from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, according to Prendergast who cited three anonymous sources close to the deal.
The proximity to the airport and the size of the land are keys to the acquisition, which is now a purchase agreement, Prendergast said. The current acreage of the stadium land is about 50 acres or less.
"This is 176 (acres)," Prendergast said. " It's a much bigger piece of land. They could even expand that if they acquire some of these Park N' Fly lots that are surrounding the site."
That opens up a number of possibilities for restaurants, retail, hotels and more, Prendergast said. And the Haslam's would get a cut of that revenue.
Competition among NFL owners was also a factor.
"Who else in the NFL can say 'I can walk off a plane and go through an enclosed climate-protected passageway and be in my seat without ever going outside,'" Prendergast said.
The news has led to speculation that the team could leave the city of Cleveland for the second time following the team's move to Baltimore after the 1995 season. This move would, of course, keep the team in Northeast Ohio, and Prendergast said it could provide benefits for Cleveland.
"If you develop that (lakefront property) with housing and retail and shops and hotels and all that, you're probably going to get more people down there over the course of a year than you would from a stadium," Prendergast said.
But there are also drawbacks.
"There's some value to be gained for a blimp flying over your stadium and providing views of your Downtown skyline on national TV," Prendergast said. "You're not going to get that" with the team in Brook Park.
The state of Ohio recently approved $20 million for a land bridge connecting Downtown to the lakefront. Prendergast said despite the stadium uncertainty, the bridge remains a big part of the redevelopment plan.
"There's an even greater use potentially for a land bridge with the stadium gone than there would be if the stadium had stayed," Prendergast said. "Maybe not the crush of traffic that we would see in big bursts, but steadier over time, a greater number of people."
City blueprints show change is likely coming for Cleveland's famous tailgaters, who have packed locations like Burke Lakefront Airport and the Municipal Parking Lot, Prendergast said.
"You'll see that the municipal parking lots to the East of East 9th Street are all identified as future development sites," Prendergast said. "They want to develop along the waterfront line and make the waterfront line actually usable as a way of getting Downtown."
And if the team moves to Brook Park?
"It's going to be corporatized," Prendergast said. "There's probably going to be The Official Cleveland Browns Tailgate Section, brought to you by XYZ Corporation. That kind of thing."
While a purchase agreement is in place, the Haslam's do not have the deed to the land according to Prendergast, who said his sources would not reveal the purpose of the purchase.
"It may be a genuine attempt by the Haslam Sports Group to build a football stadium in Cleveland’s suburbs," he wrote. "It could also be an insurance policy by the Haslams in case talks with Cleveland officials fail to produce a deal very soon for the renovation of the city-owned Cleveland Browns Stadium on Downtown’s lakefront."
Prendergast said city officials have told him if Cleveland were to lose one pro team, the Browns are a better option because they play fewer home dates at the facility compared to the Guardians and Cavs.
Keeping the Browns Downtown on the lakefront is a "priority" for Mayor Justin Bibb, said Bradford Davy, Bibb's chief of Staff.
The administration has developed and presented a "strong, thoughtful and comprehensive" package that protects the city's general fund but also "meets the needs expressed by the team" throughout eight months of negotiations, Davy said.
"The experience of Cleveland residents and visitors to our city is top of mind for us and we are committed to developing our North Coast Lakefront into a world-class, well-programmed, people-focused space, and we see the activation of Browns Stadium as a key part of that vision," Davy said in a written statement on Thursday. "The mayor's commitment to a vibrant shore-to-core-to-shore plan for Cleveland is steadfast and gaining momentum. Downtown Cleveland is such an integral part of the game day experience and the transformational changes on the horizon promise to make that experience even better."
Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne declined to comment for this article.
The Browns’ 30-year lease on the Downtown stadium expires at the end of the 2028 football season.