It’s a case of pent-up demand pure and simple. If things keep up like this, our “new normal” may be downright extraordinary.
During the past year, many folks across Northeast Ohio spent months hunkered down in their homes, hoping to outlast the virus. But vaccinations increased. Gov. Mike DeWine lifted public health mandates. And the flood gates on fun have been reopened.
“I think the dam has actually broken in terms of downtown connection and human interaction,” says Michael Deemer, president and CEO of Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA). “Since the lifting of public health restrictions on June 2, we have seen office workers flooding back into downtown, business picking back up in restaurants and hotels and the return of major events at Public Square and Progressive Field and concerts at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Music Box Supper Club.
“We’re seeing more and more people coming back, rediscovering downtown and falling in love with it all over again,” adds Deemer. “One of the things that we are doing this year is making sure that we are providing the type of experiences that will draw people back into downtown.
“We know people want to be together. And we have to make sure that we are providing the experiences that are going to get people out of their Zoom meetings and out of their homes and apartments and back into downtown.”
For Downtown Cleveland business, the future is a whole lot brighter, even as the summer days grow slowly shorter.
“I see the activity downtown steadily accelerating over the summer,” Deemer adds. “As we look ahead, next year will be absolutely epic in terms of live music and concerts, not to mention theater and other events.”
Deemer witnessed the crowds at the recent celebration of Juneteenth earlier this summer.
“Partnering with Karamu House on the Juneteenth Freedom Festival is something that we hope becomes an annual event,” says Deemer. “Bringing one of our cultural gems, Karamu House, into downtown to celebrate Juneteenth points to the kind of welcoming and inclusive downtown that we are trying to build.”
Smaller events are also returning, such Walnut Wednesdays, downtown’s biggest food truck event that takes place alongside Perk Plaza at Chester Commons. And live theater is coming back, too.
“We have already witnessed the enthusiasm for the Choir of Man performance, which was the first live theater performance hosted by Playhouse Square since before the pandemic began,” says Deemer. “Initially, it was still physically distanced since it was planned before restrictions were lifted, but later this year as the Broadway Series returns, Playhouse Square will be at full capacity. And they have announced a full schedule of events starting this year and extending into next.”
Disney’s “The Lion King” graces the stage of the KeyBank State Theatre in October. “The Prom” opens at the Connor Palace at beginning of November, to name a few.
One of the first international events that’s just around the corner is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The 36th annual ceremony takes place on Oct. 30 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse with a radio simulcast on SiriusXM’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Radio channel 310. The Induction Ceremony will also air at a later date on HBO and stream on HBO Max.
An event that once again puts Cleveland on an international entertainment stage, this year’s class of inductees is perhaps the most diverse in the history of the organization.
“This diverse class of talented inductees reflects the Rock Hall’s ongoing commitment to honor artists whose music created the sound of youth culture,” says John Sykes, chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. “It will make for an unforgettable live celebration of music in October at this year’s Induction Ceremony in Cleveland.”
But you don’t have to wait that long to see musical performances or other fun events related to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“We are excited to bring back a robust lineup of live music and events this summer with Rock Hall Live! powered by PNC,” says Greg Harris president and CEO of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “Fans can join us outdoors on our plaza for yoga on Monday evenings. We have singer/ songwriters during the day. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays we have local acts and national touring bands on our PNC stage on Thursday and Friday nights.”
All of these activities should bring a lot of visitors back to downtown, and that means more business for night spots, cafes and restaurants.
“Pre-pandemic, our economic impact to the region was approximately $200 million per year, with an incremental $36 million when our Induction Ceremony is held in Cleveland,” says Harris. “We are excited about the number of visitors returning and while we’re not yet back at pre-pandemic rates of attendance, we are outpacing expectations so far this year.”
The Rock Hall is not alone. Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse kicks off some exciting musical shows this month when crooner Michael Buble takes the stage. Future events include the “Gold Over America Tour” with Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles. Genesis, Andrea Bocelli and Cleveland’s own Machine Gun Kelly will all visit the FieldHouse before the end of the year.
In February, the best of the NBA arrives to town when the Cleveland Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse will host the 71st edition of the NBA All-Star game.
Before the pandemic, DCA, along with organizations that include Destination Cleveland, had built up a strong business foundation and a lot of momentum for downtown tourism. Now, with all of the restrictions lifted, it’s full steam ahead. And, with all of the pent-up demand, Downtown Cleveland should attract more visitors than ever before.