CLEVELAND — Two former Cleveland politicians say that ex-Browns owner Art Modell turned down the city’s offer to build a new stadium before he took his team to Baltimore, The Plain Dealer reported Friday.
The claims counter what Modell, who died last week, has said led to the move. He maintained that he left because the city wouldn’t build a new stadium.
Former Cleveland City Council President George Forbes said Modell was offered a stadium when a taxpayer-supported ballpark was being built for baseball’s Indians and an arena was being developed for the NBA’s Cavaliers. Those projects were completed in 1994, two years before the Baltimore team’s first season.
Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan said he was at the meeting where an informal offer was made to Modell.
“There is no question we made an effort,” Hagan told The Plain Dealer.
Modell’s longtime spokesman, David Hopcraft, told the newspaper that public leaders only said they would take care of Modell later.
Forbes said he never talked about the stadium offer because he considered Modell a friend even after he left the city.
“I have thought about this meeting every time it was written or televised that no one made an offer to build a stadium,” Forbes said. “My words are to set the record straight about the governmental institutions and our involvement.”
Forbes and Hagan said they do not know why Modell said no.
Modell died Sept. 6 at the age of 87 from natural causes. He remains a vilified figure in Ohio for moving the Browns to Maryland after the 1995 season.
He said he lost millions of dollars operating the Browns in Cleveland and cited the state of Maryland’s financial package, including construction of a $200 million stadium, as his reasons for leaving Ohio.
“This has been a very, very tough road for my family and me,” Modell said at the time of the Browns move. “I leave my heart and part of my soul in Cleveland. But frankly, it came down to a simple proposition: I had no choice.”
The move was also believed to be the main reason why Modell never made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.