Some 30 years ago when I was producing my newsletter Point of View I'd spend lazy Friday afternoons at the County Recorder's office. There was no time to waste.
I'd go through the documents that recorded business formations in the county.
The time spent was often rewarding. I'd find who was partnering up with whom. Who was doing business with whom and often why. I'd find politicians in cozy relationships with business leaders.
It was one of these trips on a cold January in 1982 that told me the life of the Cleveland Press was nearing its end. Joe Cole - who had bought the Press to save it - really wanted a valuable piece of downtown real estate. The document revealed more base motives. Ugly motives.
Hard to imagine now but 30 years have passed since the Press slipped away on June 17, 1982.
In the January 30th issue of Point of View - entitled "Press Land Deal" - I pointed out that the idea that Cole bought the Press to give back to the community which helped him become a millionaire was sheer nonsense.
"The more cynical among us," I wrote then, "said that Cole wanted a valuable piece of property in downtown Cleveland to make more money." Cole founded Cole National Corp., a Cleveland firm.
The Cleveland Cynics (me surely) were right again.
I wrote what the recorder's office told me: "Cole has had the real estate property - land and buildings - of the Press Publishing Company, which he heads, transferred to a limited partnership in which he holds controlling interest." The document made it legal.
He took the most valuable possession of the declining paper - the land. For himself.
Cole owned two-thirds of the limited partnership called Lakeside Associates that I accidentally ran across on that Friday afternoon visit to the Cuyahoga County offices. (In case of interest for more details the issue of POV was Volume 14, Issue 14, Issue 337.)
I ended the article on this note:
"The outlook for the Press isn't bright and the real estate deal suggests that Cole got the main asset out of the newspaper's ownership - a warning and message of his real concern." It turned out to be prophetic.
Cole never intended to keep the Press alive and thriving.
Actually, he obviously was planning the newspaper's death by his hand.
What a sordid episode it became.
It took a few years to get the hint of how things work in Cleveland.
It became a perfect illustration of how sleazy Cleveland's leadership has always been.
The death of a newspaper meant nothing to our upstanding citizens.
It took a while for the sleaze to totally unravel.
By early 1987 it seemed all the details of that piece of property at the corner of East 9th Street and Lakeside Ave. had finally shaken out. It was a piece of urban renewal property originally. It was thought that the Press and Louis Seltzer pushed the huge and still unfinished Erieview Urban Renewal plan on Cleveland city hall so that the Press would be built its new facilities at marked-down land prices. It became North Point, a Cole and John Ferchill office deal.
As I continued to watch the machinations, I wrote in January 1987:
"Well, maybe the final chapter has been written on the deal over the land that once housed the Cleveland Press. Remember the afternoon paper that Joe Cole was going to SAVE?"
The law firm of Jones, Day, Cockley & Reavis - now Jones Day - represented Cole in the "sticky legal difficulties of the Press sale." Jones Day - was the pre-eminent elite law firm here. It ended up, after all the intrigue, as Cole's main tenant on the old Press site. It must have been preordained.
The sticky details ended up in a federal anti-trust case of the Press's demise over the payment of some $14 million by the Plain Dealer for the Press's subscription list. People said the PD paid the $14 million to buy what amounted to the telephone white pages. You know that book comes free.
Anyway, Jones-Day became the major tenant in the building eventually constructed by Cole where the Press once existed. And the major law firm remains there today.
But there was a hitch.
It wasn't a slam dunk for Jones-Day and Cole, however.
Because another law firm suspiciously also claimed to have the lease on that Cole building. How odd it seemed.
That firm was at the time the preeminent politically-connected law firm known as Climaco, Climaco, Seminatore, Leftkowitz and Garofoli - now known as Climaco, Wilcox, Peca, Tarantino & Garofoli. It had powerful friends both at city hall and the county administrating building.
Now the Climaco firm in those days represented the Teamsters Union. Some believed at the time the Press was going under that the Teamsters might strike the PD. This would give the Press the oxygen it needed to survive.
The Teamsters didn't oblige.
Did the Climaco firm help the deal?
And how did it happen that two heavy-weight Cleveland law firms claimed rights for the same property? And when both played roles in what happened to the Press in 1982. How does one solve this problem?
Could these two heavy-weight Cleveland law firms been involved in a slimy deal that destroyed one of the city's two major newspapers? Was power that corruptly wielded by our major law firms? Or was it business as usual.
Well, somehow a deal was worked out on the lease dispute. It ended with the politically prominent Climaco firm receiving a 12 percent interest in the building constructed on the carcass of the old Cleveland Press. Twelve percent for what? It's a puzzle that invites speculation.
What to do with that property interest? Well, why not sell it back to Joe Cole. And that's what happened. Climaco sold to Cole. Like an unassisted triple play with the World Series finale at stake. How clever of them.
Cleveland in the 1980s was a political cesspool of intrigue as developers carved up downtown with special gifts from the likes of George Forbes and George Voinovich.
The times were made with enough hidden deals for an intrigue-filled hot book and movie. You could hardly invent this stuff.
At the time I concluded of the Climaco/Jones-Day deal:
"All fixed up, huh?"
Yes, and tied with a 12 percent bow.
At that time the investigation into the demise of the Press by the U. S. Justice Department was still going on.
"Meanwhile, the case against Cole and the Newhouse chain (Pee Dee owners and buyers of that valuable Press subscription list) continues to bumble along with the U. S. Justice Department lawyers most involved have been jettisoned - one promoted, one fired (but not going quietly). Stay tuned."
"The Cleveland Press lives on. In the hearts of some. And the pockets of others."
End of that story. But there is more, hopefully for next week.