Saturday, August 11, 2001

Mayors reach accord after long dispute

Land swap lets Cleveland airport expand

By Paul Singer
The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — A voter-approved land swap allowing expansion of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport closed a longtime feud between two veteran mayors.

        Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White and Brook Park Mayor Thomas Coyne celebrated Tuesday's vote that will allow the airport to expand into the neighboring suburb, creating a new hub of economic development for northeast Ohio. They chose not to dwell on years of acrimony and litigation that eventually led them to common ground.

        “This was a result of the long battle,” Mr. Coyne said. The Cleveland suburb finally was able to negotiate from a position of strength because Brook Park was willing to take Cleveland to court, he said.

        Mr. Coyne and Mr. White are not running for re-election, although Mr. Coyne may join the race to replace the Cleveland mayor. Mr. Coyne has been in office for 20 years and Mr. White, 12 years.

        Plans to expand the airport have been an irritant in their relationship for years.

        In 1995, Mr. White said Mr. Coyne's resistance to expansion “is not just hurting Cleveland. This is hurting the whole region.”

        In 1999, Mr. Coyne said of Mr. White: “I'm not playing games with him anymore.”

        But in February they came together to endorse the deal that allows Cleveland to buy out 468 homeowners to make room for a third runway and commercial development. Supporters argued that Brook Park land near the airport has gone to waste, leaving the airport isolated from commercial activity.

        Cleveland also will be able to build rail and other commercial infrastructure around the airport to create a new economic hub 20 minutes from downtown.

        Part of the long battle centered on International Exposition Center located in Brook Park just beyond the existing runways. The mayors have battled for control of the center for several years.

        Cleveland bought the I-X Center in 1999 from Park Corp. for about $66.5 million, with the goal of tearing it down to make room for an expanded airport, whether Coyne and Brook Park liked it or not. Brook Park went to court to stop the demolition.

        The settlement gives Cleveland the right to tear the center down, but not for 10 years. Meanwhile, Brook Park has the right to tax revenue from the center as long as it stands.

        A key to the deal turned out to be Cleveland's willingness to turn the 350-acre NASA Glenn Research Center, now mostly in Cleveland and just west of the airport, over to Brook Park in 2002.

        Mr. Coyne sees NASA Glenn turning Brook Park into an aerospace magnet.

        Mr. Coyne denied that he and Mr. White could have struck the deal 10 years ago and avoided all the trouble.

        “This is the kind of relationship we should have had,” with the two sides cooperating for economic opportunity instead of competing over assets, Mr. Coyne said. “We're both getting older. It was the right time and place.”

        The airport changes Mr. White has in mind can now come gradually.

        “We have about 15 years to talk, to work collaboratively, and to figure out a way that we can successfully expand the airport, but to do it in a way that makes us good neighbors,” Mr. White said.

        Greater Cleveland Growth Association President Dennis Eckart said the two mayors played crucial roles.

        Mr. Eckart is a former congressman whose group campaigned vigorously in support of the land swap because Cleveland's companies want a bigger airport.


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