CLEVELAND — Avon will get its interchange.Following months of back and forth and questions about what the regional impact of building a new interchange off Interstate 90 will be, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency voted in favor of the proposal Friday.
But Avon had to make concessions — agreeing to create a joint economic development zone around the interchange in order to win the vote.
“I did the compromise I had to do to get it done,” Avon Mayor Jim Smith said. “I wouldn’t have done it if I thought the price was too high.”
Cutting a deal
Smith and Avon Planning Coordinator Jim Piazza met Thursday with Cleveland-area officials to hammer out the agreement, which Cuyahoga County leaders had said was necessary for them to support the $19 million interchange that could open as early as 2009.
In the end, Smith agreed to send half of the income tax money from any business that relocated to the area around the interchange from any of 15 surrounding communities back to the community the company moved from.
While Smith said he didn’t want to make the concession, he had no choice. And, in the end, it won’t amount to much lost revenue, Smith said.
The agreement only impacts companies that have a payroll of more than $750,000. For a company with that size payroll, it would work out to about $5,600 in lost revenue for Avon annually, Smith said. The money would have to be paid for the first five years after a company relocates.
Avon originally had wanted the revenue sharing to start at $1 million and for it to exclude a 170,000-square-foot medical campus the Cleveland Clinic plans to build near the interchange. But under the agreement passed Friday, only the first 500 clinic jobs will be immune to revenue-sharing — about the number of jobs the new facility is expected to create, Smith said.
The agreement was extended in order to get the interchange approved — growing from the 15 years that Avon had proposed to 30 years.
The agreement also was expanded to include Avon Lake, Elyria, Elyria Township, Lorain, North Ridgeville, Sheffield, Sheffield Lake and Sheffield Township. Smith said Cleveland insisted on the inclusion of Lorain County communities.
“It was one of the things Cleveland had to do to save face and not appear to be money grubbing,” he said.
Avon Lake Mayor Rob Berner, a NOACA member, said he has no intention of joining the development agreement and criticized how Cuyahoga County handled the debate.
“(Avon) didn’t have much of a choice, and the reality is, it was going to happen anyway,” he said. “They would have voted it down, we would have left NOACA, joined Erie County (in its planning organization) and had the interchange in a year.”
Can’t please everyone
But even though the interchange was approved nearly unanimously, it drew fire from supporters, including several members who refused to vote despite favoring the interchange because of the threats used by Cuyahoga County to force the revenue-sharing agreement.
Medina County Commissioner Stephen Hambley said he would abstain because he thought Avon was coerced into the agreement and that was not the way a regional planning organization should operate.
“We can’t do it at the edge of a sword,” he said.
Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair, a longtime NOACA member and supporter who had threatened to lead Lorain County out of
NOACA if the interchange wasn’t approved, also criticized Cuyahoga County’s tactics, describing them as “extortion” and “blackmail.”
“Avon needs it, wants it and deserves it,” Blair said. “Why should someone stand in the way of that?”
But Cuyahoga County officials said the agreement was necessary to keep communities in Northeast Ohio from “poaching” businesses from each other.
Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland, one of those who issued the ultimatum to Avon last week, said it was the only way to get
Avon to the table to craft an agreement. But she conceded that the agreement wasn’t perfect and said the area needs a regional economic development organization.
Cleveland’s chief of governmental affairs, Valerie McCall, said Cuyahoga County officials never threatened Avon —despite calling for a weighted vote that increased the voting power of delegates from the county and telling Avon it would use it to stop the interchange unless Avon agreed to revenue-sharing.
“We didn’t say ‘You’re going to do this or else,’ ” McCall said.
Critics fear the interchange will increase urban sprawl by draining business from Cuyahoga County communities and putting more strain on existing roads. An economic impact study concluded that the interchange would be good for Avon but would have no negative impact on surrounding communities.
Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones said the revenue-sharing plan is a good one that will serve as a model for future projects, but he understands the concerns of his county’s neighbors.
“The path to regionalism does have impediments when the interests of different parties collide,” Jones said.
Elyria Mayor Bill Grace, who voted in favor of the interchange despite concerns that it could drain Elyria’s economy and lead to problems keeping Midway Mall open, said he’s not sure if Elyria will benefit from joining the development zone.
“I don’t feel it’s very likely a company would leave Elyria for that interchange,” he said.
Lorain Mayor John Romoser said the interchange will be good for the region in the long run.
“I voted for it because I had to think regionally and, on the other side of the coin, I don’t think it’s going to negatively impact Lorain,” he said.
The agreement still must be approved by Avon City Council this month, but Smith said he believes he has the necessary votes to get it passed.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or email@example.com.