Why is it that "real estate interests" dominate in a local economy like Cleveland? Because, to a great extent, they are among the only ones left. Consider the local industries that were not as subject to roll-ups. Principal among these are real estate development, construction, and law. This means the local leadership of a community is now made up of executives in those industries, and they bring a very different world view versus the previous generation.
I've written about the connection between real estate and brain drain boondoggles on a number of occasions. I think I do the best job of revealing the shadow play here. However, Aaron provides a rationale where I've only offered speculation.
It isn't about condemning the corrupt behavior you can find in any Rust Belt city. It is about why such practices are so common. This localism, or parochialism, is the crux of brain drain hysteria. You'll have trouble selling a house if everyone is leaving town at the same time. And graduates from your schools should staff regional businesses. To quote Aaron one more time:
When you look at the composition of this group, it should come as no surprise that the publicly subsidized real estate development is the preferred civic strategy. Politicians get to cut ribbons. Cranes always look good on the skyline. Local architects, engineers, developers, and construction companies love it. And there is plenty of legal work to go around.
In a nutshell, that's the "look good" (and feel good) part of the Pittsburgh Promise. You get the public to buy in by talking about the locals you keep from leaving. Before reading Aaron's post, I thought real estate developers invoking the brain drain plug was simply a convenient rhetorical ploy. But boondoggles and fear of geographic mobility are cut from the same cloth, a way of conducting civic business.