With Lake Erie off in the distance, our bus wound through downtown Cleveland, sunlight spilling in through the windows. To our left was a long, grassy incline stretching toward the coast. “We’re here,” Jackie Spencer, Positively Cleveland’s communications coordinator for meetings and conventions, said as we pulled up to the curb. Moments passed before I realized that “here” was the new underground Cleveland Convention Center, and the public park I was looking at was actually the roof. What appeared to be large sculptures protruding from the grass were in fact air vents for the new facility, cleverly disguised as art. Underneath the landscape is 767,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space.
The roof of the Cleveland Convention Center/ new public park space downtown.
We entered at ground level, through floor-to-ceiling glass panels that flood the center with natural light. Downstairs, we toured the 230,000-square- foot exhibit hall as hundreds of locals wandered through, in awe of the venue’s size, and performers on stilts lumbered through the crowds.
The excitement was tangible inside the new facility, which is also connected to the 235,000-square-foot Global Center for Health Innovation, slated to open in October. In honor of the convention center’s grand opening, and to showcase the rapid expansion of the city’s down- town, Positively Cleveland hosted a press trip in June. While the convention center was meant to be the highlight of the trip, after three days in Cleveland, an overwhelmingly friendly and delightfully unique city, it was difficult to narrow the experience down to just one standout.
On our first day, we explored the 2.2-million-square-foot IX Center, home to major industrial trade shows like the Cleveland Auto Show and the Great Big Home & Garden Show. We enjoyed breakfast in the center of the exhibit hall, next to a Ferris wheel — part of the IX Center’s indoor amusement park, open every winter. Next we headed to the “Rolling Stones: 50 Years of Satisfaction” exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. From handwritten song lyrics to Keith Richards’ pinball machine, the exhibit shows all sides of the Stones’ long and iconic career. And the Rock Hall, as Clevelanders call it, can be rented out for private events.
Afterward, with hard hats secure, we toured the Westin Cleveland Downtown, set to open next spring. The 484-room property will feature 20 meeting rooms and showcase more than a thousand works by local artists. Needing to unwind after all that scaffolding and sawdust, we enjoyed a glass of bubbly at Pickwick and Frolic’s champagne bar on lively East 4th Street downtown. That’s where we learned about a new Positively Cleveland initiative, CLE Travelbackers — a training program that educates local hospitality professionals about Cleveland, enabling them to better answer visitors’ questions, offer suggestions, and enhance the overall visitor experience.
Before the convention center's opening festivities, we toured our host hotel, the historic 491-room Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, offering 64,734 square feet of meeting space. Then we visited the drastically different, modern boutique hotel Aloft. The 150-room property is decorated with clean lines and bright colors, and affords matchless views of Cleveland.
Once we’d seen the convention center, a few journalists and I headed to the West Side Market in the Ohio City neighborhood to roam the oldest market in Cleveland and sample a Great Lakes Beer, brewed on site at the Great Lakes Brewery. We all reconvened for dinner at the Terrace Club, which over- looks third base in Progressive Field — home to baseball’s Cleveland Indians.
After dinner, we moved to seats behind home plate, where we witnessed a close game between the Indians and the Washington Nationals. The Nationals won in the ninth inning, 7-6, but there was an amazing fireworks display after the game, and Tribe fans didn’t seem discouraged. If there’s one thing that stood out during my stay, it’s that Cleveland pride isn’t easily squelched. And their passion for their hometown is completely infectious.