WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Jimmy and Dee Haslam are certain about this: The Browns are staying here. Now, “here” could be “there” but it’ll be somewhere in Northeast Ohio.
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During a 20-minute press conference at Browns training camp at The Greenbrier on Monday, the team’s owners were asked again about the future of the team’s lakefront stadium. The lease between the team and the city of Cleveland expires at the end of 2028.
“These things take time,” Jimmy Haslam said. “The only thing Dee and I would say for sure is we’re not leaving northeastern Ohio. OK, that’s for sure. Our preference is to be on the lakefront, but we’ve got to see how things play out. It will be fluid and there will be bumps on the road and it may be different in three months than it is now.”.
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The Haslams have spoken previously about the subject of the stadium, most recently at the NFL owners’ meetings in March. At the time, both indicated a strong desire not to build a new stadium − as was the speculation − but to renovate the current facility as part of a greater lakefront development project.
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The current stadium opened in 1999 when the NFL awarded the city an expansion franchise after the original franchise moved to Baltimore. At the time, the project was completed quickly and, according to reports, poorly in order to have the facility ready for the team to be able to utilize the stadium that season.
When the Haslams bought the Browns from Randy Lerner in 2012, they initiated a renovation project that included the installation of new, high-definition video scoreboards, escalators and a reduction of 3,000 seats. That’s been the only significant upgrades to occur in the facility.
“We’re really working hard with the city and the county and the state to work out a plan to continue to develop and remodel our stadium on the lakefront,” Dee Haslam said. “So we’re working through it. I mean, it’s really complex, really hard, a lot of details and we look forward to continuing our conversations with the city on how we develop the lakefront. We think we’re an integral part of the lakefront, really important part and we want to be part of the process.”.
The Haslams have pitched a mixed-use development project that includes everything from residential, retail and office space along the shore of Lake Erie. Within that project would be a major renovation of the current stadium, with price tags reported at more than $1 billion.
A key to that project, however, was a land bridge connecting downtown Cleveland to the lakefront. State Route 2 current slices directly between the two, including the stadium, the Great Lake Science Center and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Ohio House of Representatives had proposed giving $62 million to the land bridge project, but it was not included in the state budget when it was unveiled in June, thus creating questions about the project’s future. The Ohio Department of Transportation has given the city and the Haslam Sports Group $2.5 million for a viability study.
“Listen, when you work through a public process, it’s by nature and probably good that it’s messy, OK?,” Jimmy Haslam said. “It’s just going to be that way. There’s going to be bumps and bruises and it’s going to take some time and we have some time. The important thing is to get it right.”.
The Haslams have consistently pointed to the success they’ve had in Columbus with the Crew, the Major League Soccer team in which they own. They specifically point to the facility the team now plays in, Lower.Com Field.
The $314 million project was completed in 2021 as part of a similar mixed-used development project, Astor Park. The 20,371-seat stadium is owned by a special district governed by the City of Columbus and Franklin County, which has a 30-year lease with the Crew.
“These are big complex projects and they’re going to be a public-private partnership and getting that right is not easy,” Jimmy Haslam said. “We do have experience from having done it down in Columbus and did it quickly and that was not easy. … I will say this. (Chief Financial Officer) Dave Jenkins, Ted Tywang (Haslam Sports Group Chief Administrative Officer) from our business legal side speak almost daily, weekly for sure, with the mayor, the county mayor, lieutenant governor, governor. We are all talking to them on a regular basis.”.
Jimmy Haslam still on the market for stadium naming-rights deal
The more pressing stadium issue, as far as the Haslams are concerned, is getting a naming-rights deal for the current stadium. The Browns and FirstEnergy Corp. Announced in April they had ended what had been a 10-year agreement to put the Akron-based company’s name on the team’s lakefront stadium.
The stadium will be known for now by its original name, Cleveland Browns Stadium. FirstEnergy bought the naming rights to the stadium in 17-year, $107-million deal in 2013.
“We’re in the market. And here again, Dave Jenkins and his team are working on that as we speak. I have no idea how quickly or not so quickly we’re going to get it together, but we’re excited about this, about seeing who our new partner be.”.
Chris Easterling can be reached at [email protected]. Read more about the Browns at www.Beaconjournal.Com/sports/browns. Follow him on Twitter at @ceasterlingABJ.