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Talks continue on ‘Blockland’ project, including proposed technology campus

August 21, 2018

Talks continue on ‘Blockland’ project, including proposed technology campus

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The leaders of a proposal to build a massive technology campus in Cleveland hope to have a site picked by later this year, according to a prominent local attorney who’s helping lead the project.

Jon Pinney, managing partner at Korhman Jackson & Krantz, discussed the progress on the technology campus plan Tuesday morning during a meeting offering updates on the ongoing effort to rebrand Cleveland as a center of blockchain-related research and investment. A major focus of the so-called “Blockland” initiative is a blockchain-related conference, Solutions, scheduled for Dec. 1-Dec. 4.

(Click here to see a video of the meeting.)

“The goal is to have this fully designed and to make this announcement when the conference begins on December 1 on where this will be located,” Pinney said.

Blockchain is a technology platform that allows records to be recorded, preserved and maintained in an online, decentralized ledger. The Blockland effort, spearheaded by local car dealer Bernie Moreno, has attracted interest and attention from many of Cleveland’s civic players in business, education and philanthropy. Many of the same people participating in the Blockland project, including Pinney, also worked on attracting the Republican National Convention to Cleveland in 2016.

The technology hub idea is modeled after Station F in Paris, France -- a start-up incubator replete with showers, kitchens, shared apartments and publicly accessible recreational areas -- and 1871 in Chicago, a similar concept that opened in 2013. Moreno said Tuesday he’d like the project to include a public K-8 school, designed to immerse students in programming and other technology-related subjects, and open to Cleveland students through a lottery-based selection process. 

Pinney has publicly floated building the technology hub inside Tower City, the struggling Downtown retail space. Other sites also are being considered, including one Downtown and one in Cleveland’s Midtown neighborhood.

But Pinney said Tuesday that the group is “going dark” on the project’s location, now that negotiations are underway. In response to an audience question, he said project financing, as it’s currently being modeled would consist of a mix of tax credits, tax-increment financing and private investment, including from the eventual site owner. 

Pinney said the group hopes to locate the project inside an “opportunity zone,” a provision included in the recent Republican tax plan that allows backers of projects in designated low-income areas to delay or avoid paying capital gains taxes.

“We’re at an early phase, but we feel good about where we stand,” Pinney said.

Also on Tuesday, MetroHealth CEO Akram Boutros, who’s overseeing a working group focusing on lobbying government officials, said representatives of his group recently met with top officials in Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s cabinet. 

He said local and state government officials seem receptive to exploring using blockchain to record birth certificates, death certificates and title documents.

“We expect significant announcements on this, one this week and also at the conference,” Boutros said.

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