Back taxes are approaching $200,000 at the Rubber Bowl as the private owner punts on a football-themed reutilization plan. Now, the owner is selling a $9.2 million renovation to convert the iconic stadium into “the second-largest venue in Northeast Ohio for holding concerts” and outdoor music festivals.
But, quietly, leaders from the city and county are inching toward foreclosing on what has become a safety concern. A garage beneath the bleachers caught fire in January, and there have been reports of unauthorized inhabitants.
Since May 2015, city code enforcers have issued five violations for unsafe conditions, the last in January for “severe disrepair.”
Team 1 Properties, a Canton company, bought the Rubber Bowl in 2013 from the University of Akron for $38,000. The original plan was to establish a home for the Akron Fire, a United States Football League franchise team.
But the semiprofessional football league never took off. And though the tax load has lessened as the property value has tumbled from $2.2 million to $415,500, back taxes have swelled from $84,000 in 2015 to $196,143 today.
Even with investors and industry experts backing the proposed $9.2 million music venue project, the county has been told that Team 1 “does not have the ability to pay the delinquencies,” said Jack LaMonica, spokesman for the Summit County Fiscal Office.
And so city and county leaders have agreed on a plan to ask the Summit County Land Bank to expedite the foreclosure process and sell the property to an owner who will fix or demolish it.
It’s unclear if the new owner would be the city or a neighbor, like the Soap Box Derby.
Patrick Bravo, executive director for the Summit County Land Bank, said the county has asked him to look into it. But the city hasn’t approached him, yet. Tax lien foreclosure cases move more quickly through the land bank. From start to finish, a year could pass — instead of the eight years it took the county to acquire Rolling Acres Mall.
Then again, Bravo said, there’s always the possibility that bankruptcy filings could delay this foreclosure case, too. “You never know, until you start the process, what you’re going to run into.”
‘Always a plan’
The tax trouble and looming foreclosure follow two attempts to turn the 78-year-old football stadium into a money-making venue.
“There’s always been a plan,” said Sean Mason, who co-owns Team 1 Properties with William Dunn. Mason told a reporter to forward further questions to his attorney, William Corgan, who has not returned a phone call left with his Akron office.
The Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com obtained a copy of the music venue plan, which was presented to the city last month. Mason and Dunn pitched their renovation to half of Akron City Council and members of the mayor’s legal and economic development teams.
While an earlier plan was to develop a venue for semiprofessional football games, the latest plan — in a document about half the size of the first proposal — made only references to live musical performances as a “major revenue earner for both musicians and event promoters.”
In the first proposal, council was told of support from former professional coaches and players. “They were throwing out some big names in football,” said Councilman Bob Hoch, whose city ward houses the Rubber Bowl.
The second plan, which includes a market analysis of the live music industry, has some big names, too, but in music, banking and event promotion. The plan plugs AEL Capital Partners, an investment group with investors from the public and private worlds of finance and entertainment. The Colorado-based firm includes Bob Engel (a 16-year bank CEO), James Larson (who runs a Denver charter school management company), Gene Felling (who was a general manager at premier venues in Colorado and California) and Erik Dyce (who led Denver’s municipal division of theaters and venues).
Computer-generated renderings in the new plan still have “Akron” or “Fire” painted in either end zone. Behind one, a permanent concert stage has been added.
City leaders who listened to the presentation last month said Mason and Dunn were requesting that Akron buy the property and lease it back to them to avoid issues with rezoning for a music venue.
Apparently, some construction would go smoother with a public agency holding the deed.
The negotiations never came down to what the city would pay or what would happen to the taxes, Hoch said.
The draft plan also highlights nearby city property that the company would like to see turned into parking for the venue. At 3,000 cars for the average show, the plan boasts $192,000 in annual revenue for eight events.
The plan’s budget includes two phases of construction on the stadium, totaling $5.7 million, and another $2.5 million for “restaurants.” It also boasts the creation of 200 to 300 part- and full-time jobs, and borrows an unsourced black-and-white photo of the Rolling Stones playing the Rubber Bowl in 1972.
Municipal leaders have their own plan.
“We met with the city of Akron approximately six weeks ago to determine [the] best possible plan for the Rubber Bowl,” said LaMonica with the county fiscal office, which oversees tax collection. “At that meeting, both the city and the county agreed that the best possible avenue would be asking Summit County Land Bank to initiate foreclosure on behalf of the city.”
The first step for the land bank is to research the owners, back taxes and other fees and check the structural soundness and presence of environmental hazards to decide on leaving the Rubber Bowl up or tearing it down.
Bravo would negotiate a deal with a third party that would buy the property from the land bank after the tax bill is forgiven. Doing the research and finding a new owner could take 30 to 60 days, Bravo said.
The foreclosure process could take a year or more, especially if Team 1 Properties files bankruptcy, which would freeze all assets during the court hearings.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug .