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A Cleveland story

Michael Wilbon, in the Washington Post:

Stadiums for the Browns and Indians, plus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, revitalized Cleveland's center city financially, culturally and psychologically. All those restaurants and bars and nightspots don't employ people permanently? Please.

George E. Jordan, in the Newark Star Ledger:

Nobody believed in this city's downtown more than Jeffrey Alpern, a third- generation clothier.

For years, he sat on committees, lobbied other shopkeepers and did all he could to restore the luster to one of the rustiest cities in the Rust Belt.

Then, it happened. A decrepit public market in the Gateway District disappeared. In short order came Jacobs Field, a throwback baseball stadium, and the swank basketball venue, Gund Arena. A few blocks away, the glitzier Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a football stadium for the Cleveland Browns were the exclamation point.

Alpern and the rest of this city figured their fortunes had changed. What happened next serves as a warning to any city that bets on professional sports as a catalyst for urban redevelopment and neighborhood revitalization.

Today, the main streets in and around the Gateway are marked by empty office towers, vacant department stores and storefronts with "For Lease" signs. After spending $700 million to build the nation's most extensive sports infrastructure, this city finds itself in a familiar place: trying to fix a downtown abandoned by businesses and the middle class, with neighborhoods gripped by despair.

This fall, the city of 425,000, won a distinction many here didn't think possible a few years ago: It was named America's poorest city by the U.S. Census.

And Alpern? He moved his Gold Fish Uniform store from the Gateway District, two miles east to the fringe of downtown. The building boom displaced blue-collar families that shopped downtown. In their place came sports fans who pay $10 to park and go home after the game, he said.

"People were sold a bill of goods," he said in a recent interview in a showroom filled with work boots, parkas and blue security- guard uniforms. "What it did was implode the area around the arena. The concept was, 'Let's change downtown Cleveland to make it more comfortable for white suburbanites,' and they ruined it."

But what about "all those restaurants and bars and nightspots" that Wilbon wrote about?

On a Saturday afternoon game last month, budding superstar LeBron James lit up the Washington Wizards for 24 points, and the Cavaliers won 105-74. As the game clock ran out, fans poured from Gund Arena across a public plaza and headed directly into a parking structure. Some strolled through enclosed, heated walkways.

A block from the arena, only a handful of the crowd streaming toward parking lots stopped two blocks from the East 4th Street entrances at four mostly empty sports bars, doors open wide and jukeboxes blaring.

Within a half hour after the game ended, it was as though it never happened. The streets of Gateway were mostly empty.

In contrast to Wilbon, Jordan's piece looks like serious reporting. It is far from a one-sided polemic blast. There are positive aspects in Jordan's story, and he clearly states that the roots of Cleveland's economic woes go beyond the stadium spending binge of the 90s. But his account lands a telling blow to the notion that stadium building is a surefire catalyst for economic development.

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