On a perfect day in 1994, with President Bill Clinton, Bob Feller and Gov. George Voinovich throwing out ceremonial first pitches, Jacobs Field opened. Fans accustomed to dirt painted green at the old Cleveland Stadium now saw a lush outfield and perks like the Terrace Club. Best of all, you didn’t have to worry about sitting behind a pole.
Long called the Mistake on the Lake and taunted for the river catching fire, Cleveland was being heralded as the Comeback City — thanks largely to massive projects coming to fruition.
This new era started May 8, 1990, when voters approved a sin tax to fund an ambitious project — a downtown arena for concerts and the Cavaliers as well as a baseball-only stadium.
You could almost feel it in the air.
It mixed with the breeze coming off the lake, and it was something new. A little like hope and fun mixed with a deep sense of history. It was pride.
“It really generated massive amounts of people coming downtown,” says Joe Marinucci, who recently retired as CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance.
Jacobs Field’s opening coincided with the best streak of Cleveland baseball in 40 years. Then, in the fall of 1994, Gund Arena opened. The following year, the I.M. Pei-designed Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opened on the lakefront, giving Cleveland a destination of international stature.
Near the Rock Hall was the Great Lakes Science Center and North Coast Harbor. Nearby, Cleveland Stadium was razed and, on its site, a new football stadium was built for a new football team.
Not so long ago, people scurried home from downtown. Now, many want to live their lives there. They want to see their favorite team triumph (or, this being Cleveland, struggle), grab a drink with friends or rest their heads after a long night. And they want to do it all downtown.
The new stadiums provided the spark that set the downtown fervor ablaze. But we Clevelanders, the people who fill the seats and buy the beers and rent the apartments, are the ones who have kept the fire going. And that’s something that once seemed as crazy as the idea of a river catching flame.