Did Burke Lakefront Airport miscalculations add to Hopkins hub troubles in Cleveland?

by Cleveland Frowns on February 21, 2014

When United Airlines announced its decision to eliminate its hub at Cleveland Hopkins Airport earlier this month, Cleveland’s only “daily” newspaper responded mainly by supplementing its dutiful printing of press releases from business and political leaders with empty boosterism and a generous pour of white whine to go with a slice of pie in-the-sky. There was a nod or two of acknowledgment that the hub closure might be a predictable symptom of more systemic problems, but not really a bit of digging into how those problems might have played out in the form of preventable decisions that have made the pain resulting from United’s decision worse than it had to be. Notably, the words “Burke Lakefront Airport” didn’t come up in any of the Plain Dealer’s coverage of the hub closure until City Councilman Zack Reed raised the issue at a meeting this week.

The People's Airport

All of which makes this piece by Daniel J. McGraw that ran in Belt Magazine on February 4 that much more remarkable.

McGraw first runs down the numbers to show how justifiable and predictable United’s decision was, casting recent decisions by local leaders in a new light of absurdity. These decisions include a 2011 plan by Mayor Frank Jackson “for the city to spend $1.6 billion in improvements at Hopkins because of what he termed a ‘strong local market.'” This plan was supported in part by “a 2010 study by the city predict[ing] that both flight operations and number of passengers [in Cleveland] would more than double by 2035.” Both the Mayor and Cleveland Director of Port Control Ricky Smith refused to comment on the issue when approached by McGraw, but in 2007 Smith referred to Burke as a budding “aerotropolis” at “a packed power-broker lunch at Cleveland law firm Jones Day.”

McGraw goes on to answer questions about why, “even though Hopkins and Burke are both operating at about 54 percent of what they were in 2000, and even though Burke costs the city about $2 million a year to operate (costs that are indirectly passed on to the airlines at Hopkins), and even though one would think that downtown development and lakefront access might be important for all sorts of reasons, Cleveland officials still think Burke is needed.”

Along the way, he eviscerates “the City’s” three primary justifications as to why Burke can’t be closed and redeveloped, supporting one “obvious conclusion” among many: That the airport mess is a prime example of Northeast Ohio’s political and business leaders’ tendency to fail to account for anyone’s interests but their own and those of the region’s financial elite (i.e., people who use private jets).

Whether or not you’d already recognized this tendency for what it is, it’s a great thing to have someone asking the questions to make the case. And it’s a great thing to have a veteran journalist like McGraw (formerly of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and U.S. News, among other outlets) doing hard investigative work like this in Cleveland for an independent publication like Belt.

Which is also to point out again that Belt, founded by Oberlin Professor Anne Trubek on a Kickstarter campaign, continues to impress in only its first year of existence by consistently putting out excellent content that’s hard to find anywhere else (like here and here and here and here and here and here and here to provide a few examples in addition to McGraw’s airport piece).

If independent publishing like this can be sustainable then there might be some hope of actually holding leadership accountable (Does City Council even talk about Burke this week if not for McGraw’s piece?). So hopefully everyone will consider doing what they can to support Belt Magazine to help it grow, like bookmarking the page, joining the e-mail list, becoming a member, and most importantly by visiting regularly to engage with the work there, and spreading the word, including about new original Cleveland Frowns content that will be posted there regularly for the foreseeable future (with headline notice and linking from here as well, of course, so please stay tuned for that). Thanks.

  • Nick

    There is a blueprint on how to handle this. See: Chicago and Meigs field. Sometimes the only way is to blatantly disregard the rules.

    This would be so easy if someone on the city council grew a pair. All they’d have to do is order a city crew to bring in a bulldozer at midnight, and X up the runway. The next day you tell the FAA of flip off, because in the end no one really cares. In a few short years, you have a park for your city to enjoy.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      McGraw’s piece discusses Meigs Field.

    • BigDigg

      I was living in Chicago when that happened. It was epic. Though Daley was certainly no stranger to boondoggles (the undisputed king actually), he would fit right in with our NE Ohio politicians. The stones it must have taken…I think he used the prospect of terrorism threatening his landmarks as justification.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1kbBmlAvdI PML

    My mom took the buyout United offered at the end of last year before any announcements had been made. A ton of her friends are now jobless and SOL. Best move she ever made (aside from the whole escaping Communism thing and having me, natch). Now that I’m watching this flaming dumpster fire that is NE Ohio politics from afar, it boggles my mind. Definitely signing up for that publication – m’fers need to start getting called out on this idiocy. Keep fighting the good fight.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    let’s all hope there’s no shale formation under burke.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      It’s on a landfill so probably not.

    • bupalos

      There is.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1kbBmlAvdI PML
    • Petefranklin

      How can Harbaugh turn the trade down? He could only demand a renegotiation. This report just doesn’t seem realistic because Haslem would have paid him as the premier coach in the NFL.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Even when the PD finally did get around to discussing Burke, they printed without checking Mayor Jackson’s easily disprovable statement that “there are between 75,000 and 80,000 landings and takeoffs at Burke every year.” The FAA’s public database shows that the real number is only half of that, and that the last time the number was over 75,000 was in 2006.


  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    “Last September, the city of Cleveland held their “BKL Corporate Aviation Expo” at Burke Airport. I had never been to a government sponsored event in all my years in journalism (25 and counting) where there was a free open bar, and not just beer and wine, but hard liquor as well. There was smoked salmon on a platter and wine and cheese and all sorts of expensive looking food. In my younger days I would have called all my friends, yelling “free drinks at Burke!” into the phone, but I was kind of in shock. I had never seen a public agency pay for booze.”


  • Renate Jakupca

    I’ll go on the record for first mentioning Akron Canton Airport ‘s major role in siphoning away passengers and flights from Cleveland Hopkins,
    [ not mentioning the $70,000,000 FAA Tower relic still under construction at Hopkins] and that Greater
    Cleveland Area has become recognized as the global center for the Environmental
    Arts Movement, as a ‘Cultural Industry’, to foster civic identity, cultivate
    jobs and tourism, and brand Ohio Environmental Arts and Culture District
    in the Bioregion.

    “……The region in
    Northern Ohio that is noted for its growing concentration of Sustainable
    Design and Technology Industries. Geographically, the region occupies the northeastern part
    of Ohio, an area stretching from the south end to Akron-Canton, Lorain
    in the west and Youngstown in the east.”
    Full Story: http://bereabuzz.blogspot.com/2014/01/american-cultural-ambassadors-david-and.html

  • GRRustlers

    As someone who has lived in NE Ohio for most of my adult life I will admit to Burke being one of the great mysteries to me.

    You know the place where the cars used to race and they had that really sharp first turn where people wrecked and then you turned the race off and went on with your day. You know that airport race track…

    This is the part of the article that blew me away…

    “A key question is what would you do with 450 acres if it was not used for an airport. I won’t speculate on how much money the city could get from selling the property, but everyone agrees that it hits nine figures. But most don’t know how big 450 acres really is. The Burke property could fit three 18-hole golf course on it. Six Crocker Parks. One Cedar Point with about 90 acres left over.”

    I often make the Cedar Point joke about simply stealing it from Sandusky in the middle of the night. I never thought we actually had the space. My mind is simply blown by that paragraph. I can’t be the only person who thinks this.

    The bottom line is that Burke is a joke and Hopkins is a joke. It’s run by a bunch of morons who have a little airport 45 miles away that runs circles around them. Sure…CAK flys far fewer places with a whole lot more connections but ask any traveler where they will go if they have a choice and well you know. My Dad does a lot of travel with his job and he’s embarrassed by Hopkins. He’s lived here basically his whole life and wants the whole damn airport burned to the ground and have it rebuilt. He tells me that place is the first impression an outsider gets of Cleveland and it’s a (insert random Dad swear word here) joke. Maybe we should just save Burke as a smaller competitor to CAK build it up and raze Hopkins like Section 117 at Progressive Field.

    Great piece and great link. Something else to bookmark.

  • alexb

    Doesn’t burke service the big fed reserve facility down there? good luck getting Burke closed. Cleveland has one of 12 reserve branches in the country. There’s also a big federal courthouse in Cleveland. Among many other things, that means there’s a formidable unseen paramilitary presence in Cleveland to protect those assets. Burke a few minutes there whereas Hopkins…..you get the picture. Burke is likely going nowhere but they’re never going to fully explain why. It’ll be a stupid piece of shit hanging around for that one day some mooslim mastermind hits the Cleveland Fed and they have to land Harry Tasker at Burke to deal with it.

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