Office of Citizen
Rest in Peace,
DICK JACOBS - HE LOVED MONEY BUT ALSO LIFE
Submitted by Roldo on Fri, 06/05/2009 - 14:34.
Death is the great equalizer. Even multi-millionaires have to participate.
It is not optional, as Woody Allen once said, Americans seem to believe.
Dick Jacobs was well-regarded in Cleveland because he helped the Cleveland Indians win a couple of American League pennants and go to the World Series. For that, many believe he was “good for the town,” as they say. He gave it some spirit when it needed it.
He was a tough and smart businessman. When he wanted Italian marble for Jacobs Field’s loges, he got marble despite warnings they would break. They did break.
A very rich man, he once told a City Club crowd that baseball player salaries were “obscene.” He was right, of course. But he neglected to mention the profits of owners. They could be even more obscene.
I called him a Socialist for his comments that day. The proof. What he said.
He called for wealth sharing among teams by income redistribution. He favored a cap on ballplayer incomes. And he, as I would agree, called million dollar salaries “obscene.” That spelled socialism to me.
I wrote “Jacobs is socialism’s stellar star – the top recipient in the county, thanks to people like Voinovich, White, Hagan, Boyle and Petro.” They gave him breaks wherever they could.
Dick Jacobs once said “I believe in the quantum theory of profits to the nth power.” He lived by that motto.
He became a multi-millionaire by building junk as America went on its consumer binge. He built the strip malls and then regular malls. Hardly the stuff of heroes.
Ironically, this consumer trend helped to destroy American cities.
But they made a lot of money for some people.
The best insight into Jacobs for me came when he had to appear before City Council in December 1989. Jacobs had to answer questions about legislation for some $120-million in tax abatements he desired. It would help subsidize his proposed Ameritrust bank building and a Hyatt hotel. He’s also would get another $20 million in zero interest loans. (The project, never built, left the west side of Public Square a parking lot since.)
Council members were looking for something in return from Jacobs for all these gifts. They wanted something to be able to say, “We got a return of your money, voters.” It would be a fig leaf for cover.
Jacobs was irate.
Here’s the way I described the situation in the Cleveland Edition in 1989:
“Dick Jacobs – looking much like Scrooge – sat red faced, silent and sullen as he refused to budge from his I-can’t-give-anything stance.
“Council, looking for a bone to hide behind, begged for something its members could say, “Hey, we got something, folks, for your $122-million gift to Scrooge.”
Jacobs made clear that he wasn’t happy he even had to answer questions. (He came with the mockup of the development in a black garbage bag, a sign of his disdain for the city’s legislators.)
I went on:
“A serious George Forbes – who is said to have had his own private dressing down by an angry Jacobs for the messy (1989) primary campaign he ran – tried cautiously at one point to test Jacobs for a $3-million pledge to neighborhood development projects.
“What would you say to that, asked the Council boss of the multi-millionaire developer?
“The answer shot back, sharp and rebuking. It came out in short bursts, ending in a threat.
“’Bye, bye, Pasadena. No way. There’s no deal. It’s not in the deal. It’s as simple as that. The figures are here for everyone to see.’
Jacobs was angry.
“And then the warning. A threat to walk away.
“’The patient is breathing heavily. Don’t kill it,’ said Jacobs.
If it were a bluff, no one called him on it.
A deal eventually was made by a few Council members at a private luncheon. Jacobs promised he’d lend some money to neighborhood groups. Penny ante stuff.
I remember as Jacobs left the hearing room with his black garbage bag the television cameras were outside the door waiting for Jacobs to make a comment or two. They expected him to stop and talk. Foolish people.
Jacobs rushed right by. He wasn’t talking to anyone else. I tried to get in front of him to delay him, but found myself being butted against the corridor wall by his son, Jeff. He said, “Leave my father alone. He’s an old man.” I didn’t see it that way. He was 64; I was 56.
Jacobs never did answer a question. He hurried away with his entourage.
Jacobs got huge financial aid from the city, including tens of millions of dollars in tax abatements, no-interest loans and a deal – kept secret until a lawsuit – that gave him an inside at the Chagrin Highlands development, rich undeveloped land.
Most of this public generosity came from Mayor George Voinovich and Council President George Forbes at the city, but also from County Commissioners Tim Hagan, Mary Boyle and Jim Petro via Gateway.
Jacobs bought the Cleveland Indians in 1986 for some $40-45 million, sold it for some $320 million in 2000. He got the most out of the new stadium, mostly publicly funded. He saw the downside and got out.
He apparently lived life fully from what reports I’ve heard.
However, he hasn’t been a very charitable man. Hopefully, he will prove a better citizen with the disposition of his wealth.
Over the years, I have looked at tax returns of Cleveland Indians Charities but never saw his name as a contributor.
I saw Albert Belle contribute $58,000 one year; Travis Fryman, $50,000; and remember similar contributions from Ellis Burks and C. C. Sabathia, and smaller amounts contributed by many players.
Jacobs, however, revealed his need to be remembered well by the plaque he required when he sold his East 9th & Euclid property to Cuyahoga County. Another bad deal for the public.
In the sales agreement a statement on a metal plaque was required to be placed on whatever building might be constructed on the site. The exact wording was stated in the agreement. It was to say:
“In recognition of over 50 years of endeavor and achievement, the Board of Cuyahoga County Commissioners, on behalf of its citizens, gratefully acknowledges the significant contributions of Richard E. Jacobs.
“Mr. Jacobs has consistently and selflessly devoted his insight, skills, and resources to the development, redevelopment, and preservation of Downtown Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. This complex, which includes the historic Rotunda, symbolizes the legacy that Mr. Jacobs has established through his leadership in development and owning many of this County’s major commercial, retail, and recreational facilities.”
There will be no plaque outlining what Richard E. Jacobs TOOK from Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.