City attorneys say Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell cleared
CLEVELAND (AP) _ City attorneys say Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell cleared the way for the team to move to Baltimore by arranging a last-minute, sweetheart deal with his landlord _ Modell’s stadium management company.
Attorneys for the city, trying to block the Browns from moving to Baltimore next year, said Friday the deal was the ``silver bullet″ needed to prevent the team’s move.
At issue is an amendment signed Oct. 27 between the Browns and their landlord, the Cleveland Stadium Corp. The company controlled by Modell manages the city-owned Cleveland Stadium under a lease with the city.
The revision would allow the Browns to move if they paid the city $3.6 million, the estimated rent and taxes the city would earn if the club stayed in Cleveland through the end of its original 25-year lease in 1998.
Frederick R. Nance and George M. von Mehren, attorneys representing the city on the Browns case, said the lease change is void and predicted it would convince a judge to block the move of the Browns.
Nance and von Mehren said similar attempts by the New York Jets and New York Yankees to revise their leases where blocked in court.
Modell’s attorney, Robert Weber, said the city doesn’t have a lease with the Browns and thus cannot force them to stay in Cleveland.
He said the city violated a judge’s warning to take a ``minimalist approach with the media. We certainly will not be holding press conferences and will address whatever claims the city wants to conjure up in court.″
Both sides must return to court on the city’s lawsuit Nov. 20.
The original 1974 lease between the stadium corporation and Browns requires the team to play all regular-season home games in Cleveland through 1998.
Modell said he could not afford to pass up the opportunity to move to Baltimore, which has promised to build a new stadium in two years. Until then, the Browns would play in Memorial Stadium.
Modell, who has owned the team since 1961, said the club lost $21 million the past two years, in part because of limited VIP boxes and the increased cost of free-agent players.
The Browns lost more advertising and television sports coverage on Friday as a result of their announced move to Baltimore.
Hills Department Stores said the company would remove its signs from Municipal Stadium and pull its television ads involving the Browns effective Friday.
``Our decision was made based on the lack of fan support for the move,″ Hills spokeswoman Laurie Bowser-Sever said.
Hills operates 17 stores in the Cleveland area.
SportsChannel Ohio also announced Friday that it would remove the Browns ``GAMETIME″ show, the ``Browns Legacy″ series and Browns vignettes from the programming lineup of its cable television network.
``SportsChannel provides coverage of local teams because they are the most important teams to the fans within this community,″ said David Kline, SportsChannel Ohio’s general manager. ``We support the teams and the fans here in Cleveland. We are disappointed that the franchise is leaving.″