Monday, November 30, 2009

Clevelandness strikes again

UNLIKE THE NIGHT before Christmas, there are a lot of creatures stirring around in Cleveland these days. I'm not referring to the fans' disenchantment with the Browns. A lot more troubling than that. It is concerned with geography. Where, everybody with an official title is asking, will they build the proposed medical mart? As political controversies have been known to grow and linger up on the lake, the details aren't that easy to comprehend for an outsider (and probably not a few insiders, either!).

The newspapers reported last April that Cuyahoga county and MMPI, a Chicago company, had agreed in ink to an agreement that included a downtown site for the $425 million project and embrace the debilitated convention center. The following month the city agreed to sell the Public Auditorium and the convention center beneath it to the county for $20 million. Studies followed to the point where the major construction company declared the auditorium to be in terrible shape. And in November, MMPI, which is being paid $333,333 a month in the meantime, shifted to a new site a couple of blocks away to cut costs. That's the shortest version I could create. Suffice it to say that Plain Dealer Architecture Critic Steven Litt referred to the MMPI's new plan as a "bombshell".

Considering the reaction from Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Litt wasn't far off the page. The mayor even canceled a trade mission to Bulgaria to have a hands-on role in the unraveling of the issue. He clearly isn't happy about what has now developed into a new prologue to whatever comes next. The gene pool doubtless now includes the city, the county, the Chicago company, the downtown landowners, wary politicians, sidewalk vendors and the every-present speculators. As Litt summed up the reaction to MMPI's substitute plan, "The problem is that what's best for MMPI now may not be best for Cleveland."

Probably not. But you would think that Clevelanders would be used to such recurring tussles. County Commissioner Tim Hagain once sat in a campaign hotel room on mayoral election night and lamented the defeat of his buddy Ed Feighan to Dennis Kucinich and lamented that Lake Erie water had something to do with it. "It's gotta be in the water," he said in despair.

But as the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko used to explain the Cubs' regular defeats as "Cubness," I would argue that the contentious city on the lake is again suffering from Clevelandness, in which nobody ever wins. Just you wait and see. As usual, there are simply too many moving parts.

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