August 22, 2014

Elyria
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Avon proposes tax-sharing plan

AVON — The city is willing to cut a deal if it means a proposed new interchange off Interstate 90 will get built.Avon officials on Wednesday said they would agree to limited revenue-sharing with several Cuyahoga County cities if the interchange survives a planned vote on Friday by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency.

The proposal would create a joint economic development zone among Avon, Cleveland, Lakewood, Fairview Park, Rocky River, North Olmsted, Bay Village and Westlake that would last for 15 years.

Under the terms proposed by Avon, the city would give up half the income tax revenue on any business with a payroll of more than $1 million that relocates near the interchange from one of those cities. The tax money for each business would be shared for five years after it moves into the area.

The amount of what would be paid could lessen over that time if another company sets up in the space left behind by the business that moved to Avon.

The proposal also would limit tax abatements for new commercial and industrial properties around the interchange to 75 percent.

Lorain County Commissioner Ted Kalo said the agreement should alleviate concerns that Cuyahoga County officials had that Avon would “poach” businesses from cities closer to Cleveland.

“Avon is being more than gracious offering this,” he said.

Cleveland-area officials had threatened to use their combined voting power on the NOACA board — coupled with a system that allows the votes of the three Cuyahoga County commissioners to count as four votes instead of one — to quash the project if a revenue-sharing plan wasn’t reached.

But Cuyahoga County officials had sought the revenue-sharing deal for 10 years, Kalo said.

Avon Mayor Jim Smith said the city has offered all it can in its negotiations to get approval to build the $19 million interchange, which will be funded by a partnership between the city and private business.

“This is what we can do,” Smith said. “In the spirit of cooperation, we’re going to do it, but we don’t want to.”

The members of the development zone would seek county, state and federal funding to improve nearby roads, which are expected to be affected by development in the area, the agreement said.

Cuyahoga County Administrator Dennis Madden said the proposal still needs to be reviewed by the commissioners and others affected by it.

“We would not see a positive vote on the plan unless there was some kind of revenue-sharing,” he said. “We would want to take a close look at (the proposal).”

Excluded from the revenue-sharing agreement Avon has proposed is a 170,000-square-foot medical campus that the Cleveland Clinic plans to build near the site of the proposed interchange — whether the interchange goes up or not.

Avon’s proposal also would require Westlake to keep open all roads between the two cities, which have been fighting over Westlake’s desire to close Avon Road — located near the proposed interchange — for years.

Notably absent from the proposed development zone are any communities from Lorain County, including Elyria. Elyria Mayor Bill Grace opposes the interchange, saying it threatens the survival of Midway Mall and his city’s economic health.

“We can’t do it for everyone who opposes it,” Smith said, adding that if the new interchange isn’t built, then development at existing interchanges closer to Elyria — and in more direct competition — will increase.

But Grace said speeding up development at those interchanges will actually cut competition, because once they’re developed, it will make the mall area more attractive for future development.

An economic impact study on the interchange, conducted at the request of the plan’s opponents, concluded that while the interchange will be good for Avon, it won’t have a negative effect on surrounding communities.

The final part of Avon’s proposed agreement would require the communities involved in the development zone to push for the creation of a regional economic planning organization, similar to what NOACA does for transportation.

But Lorain County’s continued participation in NOACA remains in some doubt.

Kalo, Smith and Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair all have questioned the wisdom of remaining with that organization, particularly if the interchange is voted down.

Even if the interchange is approved, Smith is not sure if it’s worth it to stay with NOACA, which he said tends to favor Cuyahoga County over the other counties in the organization.

“No matter what happens, I think Lorain County should really be looking at an exit strategy to get out of (NOACA),” he said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.