5/15/2006

Eminent domain claim could be savior for Flats: The (Case Western reserve University) Observer, 4/14/06

By Jeffrey Verespej

In June 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of eminent domain used by local and state governments for economic development, even if the seized property was not considered blighted. This ruling opened the floodgates for land-hungry developers looking for real estate and citizen activists to fight the overpowering government. Since then, there have been multiple court cases where local governments have battled to seize valuable property from citizens who claimed their rights as landowners. As has been proven, there needs to be further clarification on this ruling before any property owner can lose their land for a shiny and new shopping mall. One case, however, can benefit from the Supreme Court's decision – the situation in the East Bank of the Flats.

The Flats were Cleveland's hotspot from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Drawing national attention as a music and nightlife hotspot, the prosperous properties were synonymous with a good time in Northeast Ohio: Shooters, Peabody's, and the Powerhouse. As the trendy crowd moved up the hill and into the Warehouse District, the business owners attempted to stretch their success by offering many 18-and-over nights, as well as being known for sketchy bars where illegal activities went unnoticed. This change in clientele sent the Flats into a downward spiral to where they are today: deserted and dangerous. A majority of the buildings are abandoned, and those that remain pride themselves on their young clubbing crowd or strippers. Just months ago, a local teenager from Glenville was murdered in a violent riot that was the nail in the coffin for the once great Flats.

Local developer and philanthropist Scott Wolstein has a greater vision for this land – instead of bars and nightclubs, he envisions a riverfront neighborhood with condominiums, apartments, a river walk, bookstore, and cinema. Having worked for several years, Wolstein has acquired nearly 75 percent of the property on the East Bank. However, the few holdouts are causing quite a commotion, preventing this development from happening.

These landowners, knowing the incredible potential for this land and the depth of Wolstein's wallet, are trying to finagle more money for their land than they should receive. For the past several years, these businesses have appealed their taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, claiming that their property is not worth the government appraisals due to the lack of business in the Flats. However, now that Wolstein is attempting to acquire the land, these same businesses are demanding compensation for their property that are higher than the government appraisals that were too high for their taxes. This clear and disgusting game playing is selfish and dishonest. The Flats business owners claim that if they continue to be "slighted," they will create their own redevelopment and make an "entertainment Mecca" out of the Flats. To clue them in, that was already tried – the Flats were an "entertainment Mecca," but then fell into disrepair and poor management.

The Flats East Bank neighborhood would have a spill-over effect that would benefit more than just that area, and it should be pursued quickly and completely. To keep the Flats as is would be a waste of the most precious land Northeast Ohio has to offer – if those land owners do not acquiesce to Wolstein's requests, then a case for eminent domain should be made. Anyone from Cleveland, either as a lifelong resident or a fourth-year student from Michigan, can clearly see the sad shape of this land. This would not be a case of local government overstepping their boundaries, as the Flats are in clear disrepair and do not show any signs of improvement without a distinct change. Abandoned and blighted property has negative effects on an entire area. The Flats are no different – in this situation Cleveland should act as a mediator and solve the issue with eminent domain.


The Observer: http://observer.case.edu