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Browns growing presence in Berea a win-win for team, community | Jeff Schudel

May 25—The football season never ends for the Browns. Neither does the organization's plans to grow its footprint around the team's training facility at 76 Lou Groza Blvd., in Berea.

Construction is in full swing to add a weight room as part of the fieldhouse attached to the training facility.

Friday is an off-day for players participating in voluntary organized team activities, which is the NFL's convoluted term for spring practice. May 24, however, was not an off-day for the cleanup crew busy preparing the land in the neighborhood on a street adjacent to the practice facility.

The ambitious plan includes a hotel, retail shops, office space, a community field and a community recreation center to replace the one that currently sits on Front Street in Berea.

"More and more, NFL teams have found their practice facilities can serve as a catalyst for development," Browns spokesman Peter John-Baptiste told The News-Herald recently. "We're still in the planning process of what it's going to be, but it's definitely going to be a mixed-use development."

Housing is also part of the planned project, John-Baptiste said.

The properties around the training facility were mostly residential. The Browns worked deals to buy the properties from the owners. The homes then had to be demolished. Sixteen acres of land have been purchased for the project.

The goal is to break ground by the end of 2024, but details are still being ironed out. The total cost is estimated at $200 million.

"From my perspective this would be transformative in whatever form it takes," Berea mayor Cyril Kleem told Cleveland.com earlier this month. "We know it's the Browns. It's not going to be something we wouldn't be proud of."

The hotel and other facets of the project are separate from a potential new domed stadium for the Browns in Brookpark near the airport.

Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have explored buying 176 acres near the airport (about a five-minute drive from the practice facility) for the new stadium. The Berea project will proceed no matter whether the current Cleveland Browns Stadium is renovated or the new stadium is built instead.

The estimated cost of a new domed stadium has been set at $2.5 billion. The Haslams propose they pay half the cost. The remaining cost would be publicly funded.

"Economic development around NFL facilities are important for the town and community," John-Baptiste said. "We have a great relationship with Berea. We've been there for many decades now. That partnership is going to continue."

The Browns practiced at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea from 1972 until 1991, when they moved to their current location.

—Special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone was excited when the Browns signed running back Nyheim Hines as a free agent in March because Hines returned kicks and punts in Indianapolis when Ventrone was the Colts' special teams coordinator. Ventrone became even more excited when the NFL instituted new rules that theoretically will result in more kick returns.

Hines does not like being typecast as a return specialist only. He played nine games with the Bills in 2022 after the Colts traded him to Buffalo in midseason. He ran the ball six times for minus-three yards and was targeted on nine passes out of the backfield. He caught five of them. That is nothing special, but during his five years with the Colts he caught 240 passes for 1,778 yards and eight touchdowns. He caught 63 passes in 2018 and 63 in 2020.

Hines, 5-foot-9. 196 pounds, met with reporters after OTAs on May 22 and was asked what fans can expect to see when he lines up as a running back.

"A dog," Hines answered. "I mean, I'm not the biggest guy in the world, but I'm not going to be scared. I'm going to put my head down there. I'm known for my pass catching abilities, so the return specialist thing was kind of disrespectful, honestly.

"I don't know any other return specialist who has over 230 catches in five years. So, I think people kind of forgot that in Buffalo. I was traded, had to learn a new offense, didn't have the opportunity last year to play. So, I'm really excited to go out there and prove the offensive threat I am."

Hines missed all of 2023 recovering from a torn ACL suffered in a jet ski accident. Hines wasn't even riding the jet ski when the accident occurred. He was filling it with gas when another rider ran into him, causing the injury.

Hines has not been cleared medically to participate in OTAs. He had ACL surgery last Aug. 8. He is confident he will be ready for training camp.

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