Indians seek $8 million from county for Progressive Field upgrades

CLEVELAND - The Cleveland Indians are seeking $8 million from Cuyahoga County for upgrades to the club section and executive offices at Progressive Field.

The county is obligated to fund major capital repairs under its lease with the team, which said the updates are needed to keep the ballpark, which opened in 1994, competitive with others around the country.

"It's all about knowing we want to stay at this spot at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario for many, many years," said Curtis Danburg, Senior Director of Communications for the Indians.

The team has asked the Gateway Economic Development Corporation of Greater Cleveland to approve $6 million to renovate its club lounge, concourse and seating area between sections 326 and 348 in the club level of the ballpark.

"The club lounge is basically the same as originally designed and constructed in 1994, and has become physically and conceptually outdated and should be considered obsolete under the lease agreement," Indians Vice President of Ballpark Operations Jim Folk wrote in a letter to the organization.

The team is seeking an additional $2 million to begin a multi-phase renovation of the team's Administrative Office Building, which would include lobby upgrades and a complete reconstruction of the ticket sales area, noting that technology has changed the way fans purchase tickets and staff levels have increased substantially since original construction.

"Both areas represent parts of the ballpark that haven't been addressed and in essence, [since] when they were designed in the early 90's, the business use and the needs have changed," Danburg said, calling the proposal "exploratory."

Under its lease with the team, Cuyahoga County, which owns the ballpark, must pay for major capital repairs costing more than $525,000.

County voters renewed the sin tax on alcohol and tobacco in 2014, which was estimated to raise $260 million for Cleveland's three major sports franchises over 20 years.

However, the pot of available sin tax money is running low, according to Gateway Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Todd Greathouse.

After voters renewed the tax, the county issued $60 million in bonds to essentially loan the Indians and Cavs money up front. Now, much of the money generated by the tax is being used to pay debt service, leaving about $1.5 million annually per team.

The Cavs used a portion of the money to fund the installation of a new Humongotron scoreboard at the Q and repair the arena roof. The Indians installed a new HVAC system, scoreboard and sound system at Progressive Field.

Greathouse said the $1.5 million per year each team is receiving will not cover an $8 million project until the sin tax pot increases.

"The county will have to determine a funding source," Greathouse said.

Gateway Economic Development Corp. will determine if the Indians' request constitutes a major capital repair, and then Cuyahoga County Council would have to approve funding.

The Cavs and Indians have contributed millions in team money for upgrades. A mix of funding from the Cavs and non-sin tax dollars are funding the $140 million Q transformation project currently underway.

The Indians have paid $40 million for renovations in recent years to improve the fan experience.

The upgrades cost far less than building a new ballpark or arena.

"Maintaining the longevity of this ballpark is our priority, and we've done a great job in recent years and we continue to do that, and we just have to go through the process with Gateway to ensure that happens," Danburg said.