CHICAGO -- The developer of a bond-financed baseball stadium in Cleveland cleared a major financial hurdle Tuesday when the Ohio House approved legislation that would give a property tax break to the project.
A spokeswoman for Gov. George Voinovich said the governor will sign the legislation, which the Senate approved Sept. 25.
Plans for the Cleveland Indians stadium had been in jeopardy after a 65-to-28 House vote rejecting the measure in September. The stadium, to be financed with $146.7 million of revenue bonds, would be part of a sports complex that would also include an arena for the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team.
Officials with the Gateway Economic Development Corp., the developer of the complex, have said the ability to secure the tax break and other revenues was essential to releasing from escrow $31 million of the bonds, backed by a short-term letter of credit from Fuji Bank. If the measure had failed, officials said the project would not be built and the bonds would have to be redeemed.
In Tuesday's reconsideration vote, the property tax measure passed 61 to 33. The measure would maintain the current property taxes on the underdeveloped land at $400,000 a year after the complex is completed, compared to the $4 million that Gateway officials have estimated for the annual tax bill on the fully developed land.
"I think we better informed legislators," explained Lora Thompson, Gateway's public relations director. "We didn't do a good job the first time around."
State Rep. Wayne Jones, D-Cuyahoga Falls, who opposed the measure both times, contended that bondholders should "still be concerned" about the viability of the project. He said the possibility existed that the measure could be challenged on constitutional grounds because it was amended onto an unrelated bill.
In addition, he pointed out part of the measure calls for the use of Cleveland's city income taxes derived from the development to be shared by the city and the public school system to make up for the property tax break. That, he said, could also be challenged because city income tax money is not legally earmarked to go to schools.
But Steve Strnisha, Cleveland's finance director and a member of the Gateway Board of Trustees, said that while both concerns were raised when the legislation first came up, neither was considered an issue that would affect the legality of the legislation.
Gateway, a private, nonprofit organization set up by Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to plan, finance, and construct the sports complex in downtown Cleveland, had issued $146.7 million of tax-exempt revenue bonds for the stadium portion of the project last December. The deal was one of the last done under transition rules granted by the Tax Reform Act of 1986 that ended the use of tax-exempt bonds for sports facilities.
Gateway has one more hurdle to clear to prove its financial feasibility. That is the sale of $20 million of 10-year luxury seat and suite stadium leases by Jan. 15. Those revenues are being used to help secure the $31 million of bonds.
As of Tuesday, Gateway had sold $17.3 million of the leases since beginning a marketing campaign in September, according to Ms. Thompson.
The remaining $115 million of bonds for the $160.7 million stadium are backed by revenues from countywide excise taxes on cigarettes and liquor. Gateway also plans to use excess revenues from the taxes and other non-bond revenues to build a 21,000-seat, $120.9 million arena. Both projects are scheduled for completion in 1994.