September 2, 2014

Elyria
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Avon makes a final pitch

NOACA vote on project for Nagel Road expected

Avon officials spent Thursday negotiating an 11th-hour agreement that could give them the votes they need to win approval for a proposed new interchange off Interstate 90 when it goes before the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency today.

Avon Mayor Jim Smith said he met Thursday afternoon with Cleveland-area officials who have opposed the project, but he hasn’t been presented with a final version of what Cuyahoga County would be willing to accept.

Smith

“We moved in a somewhat positive direction,” Smith said, declining to provide specifics. “We talked about a lot of stuff, and they were going to formulate it and show it to us in the morning.”

On Wednesday, Avon officials proposed what they called a final compromise to Cuyahoga County, offering to create a joint economic development zone with Cleveland, Lakewood, Rocky River, Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Bay Village and Westlake that would last for 15 years.

The agreement would give half of the income tax revenue from any company that moved from one of those communities to the area around the new interchange back to the community for five years after the relocation.

The only exceptions to the deal would be companies with a payroll of less than $1 million and a 170,000-square-foot medical campus the Cleveland Clinic plans to build in the area.

Cleveland-area officials had reportedly wanted the revenue-sharing for each business to last for 10 years instead of five.

Last week, Cuyahoga County officials had threatened to use their voting power to block the interchange when it came before the NOACA board if a revenue-sharing agreement wasn’t in place.

Some Cuyahoga County officials have said they would be willing to delay the vote another month so a deal could be worked out.

But that’s not acceptable to Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair, a longtime NOACA board member and supporter.

“I want it over with,” she said. “I don’t want to wait another 30 days.”

Blair and her fellow commissioners have compared the ultimatum from Cuyahoga County officials to extortion, and they threatened to leave the five-county planning organization if the vote goes against the interchange.

Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough said Thursday that Avon’s offer is worth looking at, but he also worried that the interchange will place a strain on existing roads and require upgrades for which Westlake and other nearby cities will pay.

Avon proposed pursuing county, state and federal money to offset those costs, but Clough said he doesn’t know if that’s possible, adding that any improvements would have to be completed by the time the interchange opened, which could be as early as 2009 if it’s approved today.

Clough also complained that tax abatements — which would be limited by the deal proposed by Avon to 75 percent — pit neighboring communities against each other. But he said a revenue-sharing plan, like the one proposed by Avon, could be a good way to keep it under control.

“Tax sharing is an equalizer,” he said. “Tax abatement is an incentive that encourages companies to get up and move across the border.”

Many Cuyahoga County officials have complained that the interchange — which would be built with money from Avon and private business — would encourage urban sprawl and lure business away from Cleveland and other cities.

Elyria Mayor Bill Grace has said he opposes the interchange because it will threaten Midway Mall and the city’s economic health.

But an economic impact study, requested by the interchange’s opponents, concluded that while the interchange will be good for Avon, it won’t have any serious impact on development in other communities.

Smith said he hopes the proposal he expects to receive today from Cuyahoga County officials is something he can live with. “We’re trying to work things out,” he said.

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