June 30, 2016

Mostly clear

Browns: Money OK’d for stadium upgrades

CLEVELAND — The Browns will get their giant, high-definition scoreboards, along with several other upgrades at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Cleveland City Council approved Monday night the team’s $120 million plan to renovate the 15-year-old stadium on the shores of Lake Erie, including the city’s obligation to pay $2 million a year for the next 15 years.

Council debated the funding for four hours earlier in the day, then voted during a night meeting. Thirteen Council members voted yes, one over the total needed to approve the plan. Five voted no and one was absent.

“I’m comfortable that this is a fair deal for the city of Cleveland,” Councilman Kevin Kelly said.

Several Council members argued the city should be using money for other needs.

The Browns will pay the $120 million up front. The city, which owns the stadium, was obligated to help pay for capital improvements in the original lease agreement. The deal reached last week between the Browns and Mayor Frank Jackson redefined the payment schedule.

The first part of the two-phase project will add two scoreboards — three times the size of the current outdated ones — LED boards throughout the stadium, escalators and a new audio system. Construction is scheduled to start quickly after the season.

“We respect the process we went through with City Council and Mayor Jackson and appreciate their support for this project,” Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said in a statement released by the team. “We look forward to moving ahead with the renovation of FirstEnergy Stadium. We know it will positively impact our fans’ experience and our community will be proud to showcase the transformed home of the Browns for the rest of the country.”

The Browns will finance the project through loans. They’ve been approved for a low-interest loan from the NFL for half the cost of the project, up to $62.5 million. The other half will come from private sources.

The second phase, expected to be completed for the 2015 season, will include the improvement of the concession areas, club seats and suites. New graphics honoring team history will be added inside and outside the stadium.

“I’d like to thank Cleveland City Council for voting to approve the City’s contributions to the renovations of one of the City’s most valuable assets — FirstEnergy Stadium,” Jackson said in a statement. “I’d also like to thank Jimmy Haslam and the Cleveland Browns for the significant investment they will make in our stadium. This type of private investment in our City is essential to our continued success.”

As part of the agreement, the Browns will have greater influence in how the city spends $12 million toward capital repairs at the stadium, starting in 2016.

Contact reporter Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.

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