As Browns mull camp move, critics decry using tax money for new facility

A Cleveland brouhaha erupted Thursday over whether state tax money would be used to build a facility if the Browns move training camp to Columbus.

While that simmered, the Browns announced they would hold their 2016 camp at the team facility in Berea, Ohio.

The mini-controversy started with a Cleveland Plain Dealer story stating business leaders in Columbus had asked Ohio taxpayers to spend $5 million to build an "athletic practice training facility" at a site on or near the Ohio State University campus for the Browns to could use for training camp for at least the next 10 years.

Longtime Plain Dealer editorial columnist Brent Larkin, now retired and a freelance writer, wrote the request for money was "worded in an underhanded way designed not to attract attention."

Larkin writes that the facility would not be built without the Browns. Yet the request for money says the facility is a "backdrop for collegiate athletic teams and community youth programs to utilize throughout the year. It will also attract professional athletic teams and franchises to our region."

The request came from The Columbus Partnership, which includes leaders of Columbus' largest corporations. It was filed, Larkin wrote, with the knowledge and approval of owner Jimmy Haslam.

The Browns have been trying to make inroads in the Columbus market, located about midway between Cleveland and Cincinnati, for years. The team had an intrasquad scrimmage at The Horseshoe last season that drew nearly 50,000 spectators and has not made it a secret it was seriously considering Columbus as a training camp site.

But the proposed move while using state tax money for building the facility might not go over well in the greater Cleveland area.

One candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives in suburban Cleveland quickly came out against spending the money.

"Northeast Ohioans deserve to have The Cleveland Browns training camp in Northeast Ohio and taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook to move it to Columbus," Tommy Greene said in a statement. "Sundays can be frustrating here in Cleveland, but we've had our team taken from us once and it's not going to happen again. The politicians in Columbus should be focused on putting people to work and raising incomes, not poaching from one city to help another."

State Rep. Mike Dovilla of Berea called the proposal to move camp "absurd" and called on legislators not to approve the funding, WKYC-Channel 3 in Cleveland reported.

Berea mayor Cyril Kleem told WKRK in Cleveland that the potential move is not a surprise.

“The Browns have always been open about the desire to move training camp,” Kleem told 92.3 The Fan. “They’ve given us and other communities [the opportunity] to see what type of facilities they would require and they also gave us that opportunity to present that.

“They told us this could happen. They haven’t done anything to us that’s underhanded and its no surprise they may relocate to Columbus in 2017. I’m not crazy about it, but it’s not like the Browns are moving their headquarters. That’s not the case.”

The Browns released a statement mid-afternoon that gave their side, and did not hide the team's interest in moving camp from the team facility. It read:

When we first explored the potential opportunity to hold training camp out of town, we conveyed that we would make the decision based on what is best for our football operations and their preparation for the season. Our football group believes it would be a positive, as it is for nearly a dozen teams in the NFL.

In relocating training camp, we would incur all the costs associated with moving and holding our operations at a remote site. Clearly, we need a facility from which to operate and are in discussions with potential partners.

Columbus approached us regarding creating a site that would serve area youth for recreational purposes the 11-plus months a year that we are not using the space, but those are discussions and plans that Columbus leaders are working through, which we will review as a serious option. Columbus is a good location for us for multiple reasons, including to give more convenient opportunities to our fans across Ohio to experience their team in person.

We will continue to thoroughly evaluate all options while remaining committed to hosting open practices for fans at our year-round facility in Berea. The 2016 Browns training camp will be held in Berea.