November 22, 2021

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Public Commenters (20 min)
Antoine Tolbert  Shaquira Johnson  Wendell Fields  Laurie Torres  Todd Byrns  Hannah Belsito  Andy Udris  Sean Watterson 

Councilmember comments during Miscellaneous (13 min)
Jenny Spencer (Ward 15)  Joseph T. Jones (Ward 1)  Basheer S. Jones (Ward 7) 

Antoine Tolbert

Tolbert: My name is Antoine Tolbert. I'm the president of New Era Cleveland. I'm here today to speak about accountability.

This generation has learned from those that have come before us--that tried to teach us, on behalf of us--to get resources, opportunity, equity, and justice. It won't be because the government powers wanted it to be, it will be because we organized and forced our public servants--our elected officials--to speak on our needs.

Sitting in these seats and making decisions for thousands of people in future generations is a high honor. An honor that most of you have historically fallen extremely short, term after term.

We the people are taking back our power with initiatives like Issue 24, electing a new mayor, electing new council members, and next up is participatory budgeting.

We want the power to shape and mold our own communities so that we can carve out a path for our babies because this leadership has proven itself to be morally incapable of putting the needs of the people before the bank account of elected officials.

Thank you. All power to the people.

1:17 Permalink

Shaquira Johnson

Johnson: Hello. My name is Shaquira Johnson and I'm here to today to share not a concern, but an appreciation for an organization that has been a fantastic partner and friends to the kids of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio. A former letter of support has already been submitted by our CEO Jeff Scott and I sincerely echo the comments that have been shared.

As a former board member, an engaged community member, and now chief revenue officer of this region's top youth serving organization and one of the top 10 Boys and Girls Club organizations in the country, I also urge you to approve the plan to extend the life of Progressive Field and continue allowing the Cleveland Guardians to chart a philanthropic community-based course that has positively impacted thousands of youth throughout our region.

For the past two decades northeast Ohio's kids have benefited greatly from the partnership and I, without hesitation, this team has been one of Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio's best partners.

Just to highlight a few points from our letter of support: over the past 20 years Cleveland Indians Charities has donated more than $3.1 million to our clubs, funding academic success programs, our annual youth of the year scholarships, as well as providing support for special events including our race for kids. Whether it was monetary support during the pandemic to help us alter our after- school model, to digital club smart learning centers so kids could learn virtually, or partnering with us to execute a successful pilot for our career readiness program, or leveraging their network to renovate our Broadway club ball field, or helping us to secure safety netting. Honestly this list could go on and on.

We are truly appreciative for their support in the nonprofit space. It makes my day when I have the opportunity to work with partners that are genuine and flexible. And I have to say the Cleveland Indians are here to really be a collaborative partner and they have not been around just to check a box. I strongly urge you again to approve the plan to improve and expand the life of Progressive Field and enable the team to continue making the kinds of smart strategic and under the radar decisions that are helping our kids thrive. Thank you very much.

2:30 Permalink

Wendell Fields

Fields: Good evening. My name is Wendell Fields. I was going to go through this whole elaborate speech about baseball and everything, but when I think about how I grew up...

I run the youth program B-Buzz baseball league out of Lee-Harvard area. And that league meant so much to us. As I look around the board and your Council, I also see fellow people that grew up with me--fellow alumni of our league. This league has produced quite a number of successful citizens and that's our goal.

Not only do we teach baseball, but we also want to teach kids life lessons--all the things that baseball taught us. We talk about discipline, sportsmanship, teamwork, fundamentals, being able to think on your feet. All that comes from baseball. And when I look at my life I look at those things I get it all from my parents and baseball.

Last year, we were lucky enough to be sponsored by the Cleveland Guardians, and it really changed the dynamic of our program. We were able to reach over 122 kids this year. Next year, we hope to do about 250 kids. We want to continue this partnership with the Indians and also with Major League Baseball, and can you continue to give the kids something that we had when we were growing up.

Some of you played little league baseball, when you grew up, and you know the feelings you got, you know the relationships you formed, and all that came from baseball. And with the help of the Indians we can continue to grow and grow and continue to help our kids in the community. Thank you.

1:28 Permalink

Laurie Torres

Torres: Hi, I'm Laurie Torres, the owner of a 25 year old legacy restaurant in downtown Cleveland's warehouse district. In the 25 years since Mallorca has been open, we've seen many, many changes in the city. With each change in administration, there's change in priorities and change in plans, but the one thing that has never changed is the Cleveland Indians' steadfast commitment to the City of Cleveland.

As an owner of an independent restaurant and the president of the Cleveland Independent Restaurants, an organization that speaks on behalf of independent restaurants, I can tell you that covid was very difficult for our industry-- post-covid, pre-covid--covid was in generally difficult for us.

We had the shifting sands of regulations, the opens, the closes, and now the staff shortages, all created a really difficult situation for us doing business in downtown Cleveland. And when you added to that the loss of the sports fans it made doing business downtown even more difficult.

There's a symbiotic relationship between restaurants and the Indians or any sports team in the sense that when people come down for a game, they don't generally just come down to the game, but they come to lunch before or dinner after. As a matter of fact 1.7 million people come down every year for the game and those people spend money in hotels, in restaurants, in the downtown businesses. And that money creates jobs in those businesses and those businesses often have people who live downtown. And those people when they live downtown take that income that they get from the suburbs and for the people coming downtown and they spend that money downtown and that in turn supports the city in the form of taxation.

It is my understanding that the renovations will not cause additional taxes and I feel like we should really support our Guardians as guardians in a house that looks like a house for guardians. That is in tune with other city stadiums. Although there are no cities like Cleveland, when we compare other cities, our stadium should look aesthetically and functionally as good as their stadiums do.

So as the people that own the stadium-- the city citizens that own the stadium--I steadfastly support the renovations for the stadium and I hope that you will too. Thank you.

2:22 Permalink

Todd Byrns

Byrns: Good evening Council, thank you. I'm also here to speak on behalf of the Indians. So my name is Todd Burns and I am the general manager of the Hyatt Regency Cleveland hotel and I come to you as both a business person and a resident of the City of Cleveland and its third ward. As a business person I represent a little over 125 employees at the hotel and I think I can speak for all the downtown hotels when I say that the business that Major League Baseball has brought to us is irreplaceable.

You know for the Hyatt that the Guardians themselves are our number one volume account. As a partner of the team we basically house all the players that come to town that don't have residences within the city. In addition to that the 81 home games provide a huge amount of work for our colleagues. As was mentioned a moment ago baseball brings 1.7 million visitors to downtown Cleveland, and in 2020, even during the pandemic, there were more than four thousand hotel workers that serve visitors throughout Cuyahoga county. At the Hyatt alone, 86 percent of us make up our homes in the county and 61 percent of us in the city.

The Guardians have been a great partner over the years that we just cannot replace, and even during the rock bottom of the pandemic when fans were not allowed in the stands and our business was an all-time low, they produced. When most of our partners stopped traveling, they actually brought a modified spring training to the City of Cleveland outside of Arizona, and that was the first part of our recovery-- bringing back housekeepers from layoff, from furlough, and opening our restaurants. Had that not happened, I think it would have been at least another 10 months, before the NFL Draft, before we started to see the business to bring those folks back.

So now as we enter the next phase of a recovery having sports fans in downtown Cleveland is the key for the hospitality industry. Most hotel experts will tell you that it will be 2024 before business levels return to 2019. And we need to have those fans coming back to get us back where we need to be.

As was mentioned earlier the work will not result in any new or increased taxes, and the work means the ballpark, which is owned by the public, will boost the city's economy for years to come and help to support our business and employees. So on behalf of 125 employees at the Hyatt I ask that you please consider the renovation of the Progressive Field.

2:35 Permalink

Hannah Belsito

Belsito: Good evening Council President and members of Council. I'm Hannah Belsito, chief experience officer for Destination Cleveland, and I'm here to express our organization's support of the plan to improve and extend the life of Progressive Field with the proposed funding involving no new or increased taxes for residents.

Destination Cleveland serves to attract visitors to Cleveland. Research commissioned from Longwoods International shows that attending a professional sports event is in the top 10 activities that day and overnight visitors choose to experience. Well in Cleveland, prior to the pandemic, travel and tourism in Cleveland was growing at a record rate for nine consecutive years--greater than the U.S. average.

As you've heard tonight, the global pandemic decimated the industry and I'm sure you're all seeing this in your neighborhoods. We experienced a 30 percent loss in visitor volume in 2020. Despite this temporary setback, we're poised to rebuild the industry, to exceed pre-pandemic success. Doing so will require a combination of steadfast support of our industry and offering a desirable experience for locals and visitors.

Progressive Field has been and will continue to be a driver of downtown service business recovery. It's imperative that the experience at Progressive Field is world class. The field is 27 years old--the oldest Major League Baseball ballpark. Therefore, upkeep and renovations are essential. Hosting 81 home games per year supports thousands of jobs, including sixty thousand jobs in travel and tourism.

An additional benefit is hotel occupancy in the affiliated bed and sales tax revenue. A strong illustration can be found with the team's 2016 playoff run that resulted in a World Series appearance. On the six nights games were hosted at Progressive Field, downtown hotel occupancy averaged 95 percent. On those same nights one year prior, occupancy averaged 74 percent. Over those same nights one year later, occupancy averaged 70 percent. Such high hotel occupancy rate because of the games at Progressive Field increased the average nightly room rate in downtown and suburban municipalities resulting in increased bed and sales tax tax revenue for our community.

Finally, I'd like to underscore the importance of public-private partnerships. In just the last five years collaboration has illustrated that when we work together we can shine a bright light on Cleveland. The RNC, the MLB All-Star games, the NFL Draft, and soon the NBA All-Star games are all examples of the success we can achieve when we work together toward a mutually beneficial goal.

On behalf of Destination Cleveland, I urge you to approve the investment in this project. Doing so is also an investment in Cleveland's travel and tourism recovery. Thank you for your collaboration.

2:44 Permalink

Andy Udris

Udris: Mr. President, members of Council, my name is Andi Udris, and I'm happy to say this is the first time I've been back to these chambers after 35 years. I used to sit in that chair over there as economic development director for the City of Cleveland under George Voinovich. And one of my projects was the assistance to redevelop the new stadium at Progressive Field that we have today-- back then it was called Jacobs Field.

I simply wanted to advise people that now I'm currently (I came back home) president of Hofbrauhaus Cleveland. We have over 100 employees in our business. We are a small locally-owned business. However, only 50 of our employees are able to come back right now because of the covid environment.

We need your investment in additional assets here in Cleveland in order to allow us to be able to hire back those 50 additional employees. Most of the restaurants in Playhouse Square have closed because the theaters were closed. Having the stadiums reopened, having the theaters reopen, is now putting us back in a place where we can hire local residents and be able to put them back to work.

So I strongly urge you to vote in favor of the funding necessary to keep the stadium in top shape and be a competitive location for economic development in the city of Cleveland. Thank you.

1:20 Permalink

Sean Watterson

Watterson: Thank you Council President. Thank you Council, especially thank you for making this comment period a real thing. As a business in Councilwoman Spencer's ward, I particularly appreciate her support for that.

I'm here to speak on behalf of American Rescue pPlan Act funding for the arts. The arts were among the hardest hit. We've been hearing about the Guardians. Arts were equally hit, and I represent not just the Happy Dog which I co-own but the Cleveland Music Club Coalition. We are music clubs that are anchors in neighborhoods across the city-- Happy Dog in Gordon Square, the Beachland Ballroom in the Waterloo Arts District, Brothers Lounge, Now That's Class in Edgewater, the Agora in Midtown. We employ hundreds of people directly and thousands of musicians who perform on our stages.

I know, my story personally, we were closed for over a year due to covid. We couldn't pivot because we couldn't present live music. Our whole reason for existence was gathering people together. We were able to reopen over the summer, that was great. When delta hit, we've seen another hit. We're running 30 percent below normal and that's across the board, if you talk to any of the clubs across the city, across the county, and across the country.

I also know the value of assistance. We were fortunate in getting some county Cares Act assistance, and we lobbied for federal assistance. Without that we would have closed, not just us, all of the music clubs in Cleveland would have closed. So we truly know the value of that assistance.

I would ask that when you look at arts funding with American Rescue Plan dollars you look to fund the creative workforce directly. I hope that at least half the money that gets approved goes directly to the creative workforce, not just the individual artists but the people who work in these venues and museums--the security guards, the ticket takers, the back of house staff, all of the people who make our experiences a great thing.

And with the dollars that are left for the non-profits and for the small businesses that support the arts that are arts based, non-profits and small businesses I would say prioritize the ones who fell through the cracks.

Put them first. Put those of us who were able to get assistance back towards the back of the line. I think that this is something that is key to the destination experience for people coming to Cleveland. I'm happy to be a part of the Guardians, we have a Happy Dog at the stadium.

But I would love for the arts to be as big a driver. So thank you for the time.

2:53 Permalink

Councilmember Jenny Spencer (Ward 15)

Councilmember Spencer: Thank you Mr. Council President. I wanted to truly thank the citizens who are here this evening. I wanted to acknowledge your presence. We are all honored by having you in the room. Thank you so much for being here this evening.

And I wanted to point out if this is your first time coming to a council meeting, I didn't know what to expect when I first came to a council meeting. That's a lot of reading through legislation, reading through ordinances--it goes pretty fast. I encourage you all to continue to engage with Council. One great way to do that is through the committees as well.

So thank you for being here tonight and I look forward to seeing you again. I know we all do.

0:41 Permalink

Councilmember Joseph T. Jones (Ward 1)

Councilmember Joe Jones: I was yielding to my cousin but he didn't want to take it.

I just want to take this opportunity to say thank you. So often when you are in public life and in public office, there's a lot of moving parts that make up success to being in public office. And I want to take this opportunity to say that I'm going to miss some really good people who have been here for a very long time in the city, who have done some very outstanding work.

That first person I've always, when I first came into the Council, I said we are certainly have a jewel, a diamond in the rough. And it was so good to see her coming back after being away for almost 16 years, and that was Sharon Dumas. She has done an outstanding job for this city. Some of the most stressing times, she has worked very diligently to stabilize the market space, and she has historical knowledge and information about the city, how it functions, the significance of making the decisions that we make, and certainly a very good person to go to when you need to get some information or if you need to make sure that you're on the right side of the situation.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Mayor Frank Jackson. And I rise to thank him because our neighborhood has been blessed and fortunate to be able to get a state of the art recreational facility. Not so often, communities of the 17 neighborhoods get an opportunity to get a recreational facility built. And I want to take this time because this particular recreational facility was important because of the simple fact that the last time we had one built Ralph Perk was the mayor of the City of Cleveland at that time and the year was 1970.

So we really appreciate, and on behalf of the citizens, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to say this to him because I know his schedule is busy, and I wanted to kind of coordinate our community being able to come and say to him thank you, but it seems like it might not work out for us, where we can come and really truly say thank you as a community to the mayor of the City of Cleveland.

So I do want to take this opportunity to thank Frank Jackson and his administration for making sure that we have a state of art recreational facility. And then I was reminded earlier next to a $42 million John F. Kennedy school, by his right hand man, Valerie McCall.

And then lastly I just want to take the opportunity to say that it is indeed a privilege to have the opportunity to serve on Council and to try to mete out all the very difficult deals and negotiations and hopefully at the end of the day be able to make the right decisions on behalf of this city, and not only in my neighborhood but all of the citizens of the City of Cleveland.

I thank you for having the opportunity Mr. President and to my colleagues to speak. God bless, you all have a great evening. Thank you councilman.

3:50 Permalink

Councilmember Basheer S. Jones (Ward 7)

Councilmember Basheer Jones: Thank you so much Mr. President, I appreciate it. I'm thankful for the opportunity to speak on such a very important topic for me. Anytime I start to speak the first person [unintelligible] I automatically go back to my mother. Even though my mother and my siblings--we lived in many different shelters in the City of Cleveland--she still instilled a sense of pride in us and she taught us to stand up for what we believe, even if you have to stand alone. She spoke about the importance of having the courage to be alone, and I miss her dearly, but her teachings still stay with me.

But the reality is just like the feeling that my mother felt, Cleveland continues to be one of the most dangerous and most violent places towards women, especially women of color.

My family, Mr. President, we used to be on food stamps. This is before the credit card, this is the food stamps for you you can't leave it out. Back where we used to have these food stamps, my mother she would go to the store, and uh, I'm not gonna tell all her business, but basically a man snatched her food stamps out of her hand, and basically dared her to do something.

And I can remember that feeling even as a little boy, but seeing my mother feel defenseless, feel helpless that even while this man was doing this to her, no other men stood up for her. No other individual stood up for her. And unfortunately we live in a city we can see crime, we can see pain [microphone issue] ...their pain does not matter. Look at black mothers who are having their sons and husbands snatched away without any repercussion. It doesn't just happen in the streets of Cleveland, but it happens in the boardrooms of Cleveland. Where brilliant black women have opportunities snatched away and given to below average men every single day.

So there's two pieces that i'm asking for my colleagues to support. And the first one is Allen Estates. It's not just about building a building in a specific location. It's about, what does the impact of that building, what will it have on the entire city? And what I want for my colleagues to understand, is that it's not about the building. It's about who is building the building. It's not about the building, but it's about who is building the building.

Let me tell my colleagues about Allen Estates. Allen Estates-- Sheila stand up, Angie stand up-- Frontline Development was created by two women of color. Two women of color. And unfortunately some of the things that we've heard as they have chosen to name the Allen Estates after is Carolyn Allen--if you could stand up--the first black woman to be safety director here in the City of Cleveland. Miss Carolyn Allen. This is not just building a building, it's about who is building the building. Who is building the building.

Why is this important? Well, because we have lived in a city where below average men come to the table every day to get development deals and no one has anything to say about them. But when you have these beautiful black women who we have said as a city, that we have declared racism a public health crisis. But it don't matter if you don't put no resources behind what you're talking about it. It has to be resources behind it and I say to all of my friends and my colleagues, and to Mayor-Elect Bibb, you know this is going to be a serious issue.

It's going to be a serious issue. Why? Because every single dollar should be spent in an equitable way. Because if we truly want to stop racism, we have to put economics behind it. So we have to support the Allen Estates, not just because it's a building, but it's about who is building the building.

The second thing is NEON Health Center. NEON Health Center was burned down in the Hough neighborhood. Now we all can have issues about NEON. We have issues about everything, but unfortunately we live in a city where there are organizations who have not been allowed to fail. Matter of fact we live in a country where there have been corporations that have not been allowed to fail. But black businesses fail every single day.

But yet, and still, our friends who say that they are woke and they care about humanity, don't understand that black people have to be at the table if we're going to truly repair a damaged people. They have to be at the table. They have to make sure that they are getting economic opportunities. We can't just complain about violence on St. Clair but not talk about the violent tactics of boardrooms that are not giving black and brown women the opportunity. [Applause]

So I close with this: To my colleagues who are all very sensible and loving people. and they have an understanding that they want the best for their community. But I want for all of my colleagues to know that what's happening in ward 7 or what's happening in ward 6, it affects ward 17, it affects ward 11, it affects ward 12.

ARPA dollars was sent down not as prize money. The ARPA dollars is not prize money. It's not like we were the best and, surprise! No, we got this money to fill a need, to fill a need.

So for anyone who says 'What about my neighborhood?', listen, this is what I'll do for you. You can take all of the development, you can take all the city services, but take redlining with you too, okay. Take lead with you, too. Take the infant mortality with you, too. Take the increase of violence with you, too. You can take all of that with you. You can take it all with you if you want.

But the fact is that's not what all neighborhoods are dealing with. So we want to truly stand behind what we said: that racism is the public health crisis.

I'm asking my colleagues to support support the funding of the Allen Estates and support NEON Health Center, that sees more black people than any other health institution in this city. So i'm asking you to stand up and support if you truly believe what you've been fighting for, and I know that that's what you would do. Thank you so much.

8:07 Permalink