Cleveland City Council Votes To Buy Raider Drive Bank Building - If Schools Agree To Take It On

  • Monday, January 23, 2023

The Cleveland City Council on Monday initially voted 4-3 to turn down a deal offered by Cleveland billionaire Forrest Preston for a long-vacant former bank building on Raider Drive across from Cleveland High School.

After a recess, there was a new motion that passed 7-0 that has the city buying the building for costs totaling around $800,000, then giving the Cleveland Schools until March 1 to reimburse the city's costs. The city is also asking that the Cleveland Schools going forward pay the city $18,000 per year - the amount of current taxes on the building.

The Cleveland Schools have indicated an interest in refurbishing the building as a new school headquarters.

On the initial vote, those against were Dale Hughes, Sandra McKenzie, David May and Ken Webb. In favor were Tom Cassada, Bill Estes and Avery Johnson.

Councilwoman McKenzie said she had expected that the schools would have had a memorandum of understanding ready with the city by the time of the vote. The schools had expressed interest in the building, but had made no written commitment.

Councilman Hughes said, "Why wouldn't the school board just not commit and say, 'We want it. We've got the money. We'll take it.' "

Councilman Webb said he did not understand why the city was being asked to pay any taxes. Mayor Kevin Brooks noted that if the city had acted a year ago when the present offer was made there would have been no taxes involved.

It was also noted that Mr. Preston, the founder of Life Care Centers of America, in 2016 offered the building to the city at no charge.

Councilman Estes, who had argued strenuously for the deal, was unable to speak when called for his council report just after the vote. A recess was called.

He said earlier, "We can't pay $800,000 for a building that is worth five to six times that amount? It's a good business decision for the city of Cleveland. It's a remarkable offer that is way below market value."

Councilman Estes added, "To me, this is a steal. I don't see how the city of Cleveland can walk away from it. It's a sweet deal."

Dr. Russell Dyer, city school director, said the current headquarters on Mouse Creek Drive was overcrowded with items being stored in portable units. He said central office personnel currently are in five different locations.

He said, "There are a whole lot of ways we can use that building."

The Preston property includes eight acres and is by the greenway. It has 45,000 square feet of space.

Hal Taylor, who heads up school maintenance, said he believes the Cleveland Schools can spend some $1.2 million "to get it up and operable." He said the roof is in good shape and it includes a chiller that is almost new.

Part of the renovation will be removing peeling wallpaper and painting, as well as installing new carpet.

"It's a very usable building," Mr. Taylor said.

Councilman Johnson said education was his prime focus. He said he has been to the current school headquarters and had to dodge boxes in hallways.

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