It seemed like a casual mention in the Plain Dealer this morning.
Yet it is the first hint of a move dealing with likely the most valuable piece of property in downtown Cleveland. Especially now. Public property, too.

The PD reported today that former National City Bank chairman turned interim Cleveland school superintendent Peter Raskind mentioned an apparent thought about selling the downtown school administration office building.

He’s “pondering,” according to the Plain Dealer, selling the downtown headquarter building of the Cleveland school system. It was a piece of property strongly sought after by a developer from 1983 to 1985. It is a beautifully located spot for a hotel.

Some desires never die.

I noted in December 1985 that “The board building probably would have been sold last year except that three black school board members strenuously opposed the sale. They were Stanley Tolliver, Mildred Madison and Ed Young.”

My memory tells me that opposition by then State Sen. Michael White helped kill this rotten deal. A good part of the reason was that the sale was contemplated just as African-Americans students had become a majority in the school system.

The historic sand stone structure was constructed in 1930. It is part of the public buildings that make up the Cleveland Group Plan. It was designed by Walker & Weeks.

Since the historic building sits across from the $425 million Medical Mart/Convention Center, now under construction, it sits on prime land. Possibly the best location downtown for a hotel.
This is not the first time developers have eyed taking this important piece of real estate away from public ownership.

Back in the mid-1980s developer John Ferchill (Ferchill the Fox, as I called him) tried to seize the property to use the administration building as a lobby and special hotel rooms with a slender luxury hotel on the rest of the school property. It would have been modeled after an almost exact new hotel in New York City at that time.

I wrote then that we could call it the “Cable Hotel” since Ferchill, Cleveland board of education president Ted Bonda and at the time Robert Jackson, lawyer for Kohrman & Jackson and personal lawyer of Council President George Forbes made for an unwholesome trio. Ferchill and Bonda at the time were partners in North Coast Cable, along with Bonda’s son Tom and a host of other politically active politicians, both Democrats and Republicans.

It got even more incestuous among politicians as time went by. For those who want more details I’d suggest a library visit to read the following issues of POV: Vol. 15, No. 23; Vol. 16, No. 1; Vol. 16, No. 6; Vol. 16, No. 22; Vol. 17, No. 8; Vol. 18, No. 11. This was an era when Mayor George Voinovich and Council President George Forbes were giving away public monies that would make the County criminals of today seem as petty thieves.

Ferchill wanted a host of subsidies from City Hall, including that the city buy the building and site from the schools and then turn over the property to him. He also sought some $10 million in UDAG money; special loans of another $10 million; a $5 million tax credit for rehabbing a historic building and a number of other incentives.

At that time I wrote in Point of View, “It’s a sad, shabby affair.”

I also wrote at the time, “The self-interest potentials in this deal are enormous…It has the makings of the most disgraceful use of political power in ages.”

“The Voinovich administration and at least one school board member are trying to steamroller the multi-million dollar sale of the downtown school headquarters building without proper examination and without adequate discussion.

“The historic, six story building occupies what is an entire downtown block in the area earmarked for public buildings.”
The property is located behind the downtown public library, from Rockwell Ave. to St. Clair Ave. and from East 6th to Mall A and the Key Center and the Marriott hotel to the west.

When I asked Ferchill at the time whether he were seeking a UDAG from the city, he replied, “I forget.” He had written two weeks before to Mayor Voinovich seeking a $10 to $11 million UDAG.

Ferchill told me that he was reluctant to talk to me about the project. “Roldo, I know what you’re going to do,” he said. I told him I knew what I was going to do also. Write about this incestuous take of public property.

At that time – and to be carefully watched for similar deals now by the news media – Ferchill, using Seth Taft of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue (now Jones Day), with the aid of state senator Charlie Butts was pushing legislation that “would allow the board to peddle the property without the safeguard of a public auction, now presently law,” I wrote then.
I think it would likely be easier under Gov. John Kasich and a Republican legislature.

At one press conference Ferchill refused to acknowledge any questions I had. He said after the meeting that “I’m not like other people. I don’t play your game. You don’t tell the truth.”

I got a call later from Ferchill’s lawyer, Seth Taft, apparently embarrassed. He called to acknowledge that the thrust of my questions were valid and that they were legitimate.

It was the truth that Ferchill didn’t want to acknowledge and that will be the same with a sale of this property now.

There is no way this public property should be sold to ANYONE. It belongs to the people of Cleveland and its children.

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