Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Convention Center costs climbing

The county wants to build a new Cleveland convention center, and the big questions are: where? and how much will it cost? This week's news is that the project will be pricier than advertised. It's no surprise. You could see the leading sites' expensive problems two months ago, at a May 22 public forum.

A vice-president for Forest City showed off rough designs for its proposal near Tower City. Its big problem is truck traffic. To ship in all the stuff for a convention, trucks would have to cross a long new elevated driveway, extending from the Eagle Avenue Bridge (by Progressive Field) to the new convention center. The design had trucks docking one story above the center's main entrance on Huron. It looked ugly and awkward.

The other leading site is the current convention center's location. Some engineers presented attractive designs for a new center there, underground like the current one, with skylights and suspension-bridge-like roof supports. It looked good, but it meant digging several feet deeper, which would run up the cost.

Now comes the news that both sites would cost more than the $400 million the county's sales tax hike will raise. The county commissioners insist they won't spend more, and private contributions will have to pay for the rest. Forest City is trying to shave costs -- it's redesigned its site to be shorter. Engineering consultants are reportedly looking for savings at the city-owned site.

Forest City is trying to fit a big center on not much land, so its proposal is too thin and vertical. The city-owned site has to be underground, unless the county wants to trash Daniel Burnham's century-old "Group Plan," the master design for downtown. That's why the costs are high. But the county won't move to another site. The others being bounced around are too small or too far from the center of town.

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