INDEPENDENCE: Contrary to Braylon Edwards’ opinion, Northeast Ohioans can accept a Michigan man.
Especially one who seems to be embracing his role as Cleveland’s champion.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was born and raised in Detroit and graduated from two universities in the state where Woody Hayes wouldn’t even buy gas. But with Gilbert’s Horseshoe Casino Cleveland set to open Monday night in the former Higbee’s building, Gilbert is poised to become the architect of a downtown renaissance without shirking his commitment to rebuilding the Cavs into an NBA championship contender.
At a news conference Wednesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts, Gilbert proudly pointed out the gold horseshoe pin on his left lapel, while trying not to gush too much over the new betting facility that will add more millions to his companies’ coffers. And this is just Phase 1, which cost $350 million. A $700 million structure is still planned behind Tower City Center on the banks of the Cuyahoga River.
“Hopefully this creates a lot of opportunity, a lot of jobs, and brings back the kind of excitement people expect out of their downtowns,” Gilbert said.
Save for Dick Jacobs, a real estate developer who knew when to cash in his chips on the Indians, I can’t think of a sports team’s owner more invested in Cleveland. There certainly hasn’t been one as human as Gilbert, who tweets and emails first and asks ‘Is this a good idea?’ later.
“There’s been mistake tweets. A toilet paper roll, I don’t even know where the picture came from,” Gilbert confessed. “I had a swear word come up by mistake; I think I forgot to buy a vowel.”
That’s not to mention the vitriolic email to fans the night of LeBron James’ decision. This season with the Miami Heat, James is threatening to blow up Gilbert’s vow that the Cavs would win a championship before James.
But even as crazy as Gilbert sounded that night, Northeast Ohioans loved that he had their back. They like that even when he sends a “mistake tweet,” he has no regrets.
“There’s not a message that I’ve sent out that I said, ‘Aw, no,’ ” Gilbert said. “I try to run some of them by my wife. I should probably do ’em all.”
Some would say that Gilbert is trying to buy ’em all. Besides the Cavs, he owns the Lake Erie Monsters, the Cleveland Gladiators, the Canton Charge and is the operator of Quicken Loans Arena. Reportedly, his companies employ about 3,600 in downtown Cleveland, about 1,600 for the Horseshoe operation. Last week, it was announced that Quicken Loans is hiring 100 for its Cleveland Web Center, which will bring the total to about 400 in the mortgage banking division that specializes in VA loans.
Gilbert conceded that people thank him for believing in Cleveland, and he seemed touched when he said it.
“I’m very humble to say that does happen,” he said. “We get a lot of emails. It’s very humbling to walk through the casino and have security folks who have just been hired or other people say, ‘Thank you for the opportunity and the jobs.’ We thank them back. I think it works both ways.”
That’s the kind of attitude that has made Quicken Loans a mainstay on Forbes’ list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
Gilbert is going a long way to erase the checkered history of Cleveland sports owners who were either cash-strapped (i.e. Larry Dolan, Art Modell) or incompetent (Ted Stepien).
As much as he did for charitable causes and for the people who worked for him, Modell was always borrowing money, whether to buy the Browns or to sign Andre Rison. He was considered a meddler before he became a traitor. The Browns’ Randy Lerner is a passionate fan who was willing to take over his late father Al’s causes as long as he doesn’t have to step in front of a television camera. His hires have been questionable at best.
The Dolans now reign supreme as the object of area fans’ hatred. Some refuse to buy Indians tickets even with the team in first place, because they’ve traded away every star when it was time to dole out the big bucks.
Tribe fans might dream that someday Gilbert would gobble up their baseball team, too.
“We never say no to opportunities,” Gilbert said when that question was raised Wednesday. “I haven’t studied that opportunity in any way, shape or form yet, and I don’t think the Indians are for sale, as far as I know. There’s also some gaming restrictions in MLB and NFL that the NBA doesn’t have restrictions on. That may make something like that not viable in the short term as well.”
Gilbert’s “yet” might be enough to give Indians followers hope that he might one day ride to their rescue, although certainly not if there were a choice between casino millions and baseball millions.
Make no mistake, Gilbert’s casino venture is all about the money. But at the moment, he’s wearing the white hat. He is a Comic Sans character, but at least he’s not a comic book character like the others who have come before him.
Even if he turns Cleveland into his own fiefdom, Northeast Ohio might be filled with willing serfs. At least as long as Gilbert continues to care about them.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.