Cleveland Convention Center
The Convention Board of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, organized by the early 1920s, was behind the development of meeting and exhibit facilities at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium, completed in 1922. That Auditorium at East Sixth Street and Lakeside Avenue in the downtown core of civic structures, and with its massive seating capacity and basement exhibition halls and meeting rooms, served as the city’s first convention center.
By 1932, an expanded underground exhibition facility — running beneath the public pedestrian Mall B and connecting to Public Auditorium’s basement level facilities — was completed, giving rise to a more competitive convention center. Within a few years, a separate Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland, Inc. had split from the Chamber of Commerce, and had began more active and focused promotion of the city as a destination for conventions and other visitors.
To add yet more convention and meeting space and to substantially improve parking availability, the local architectural firm of Outcalt, Guenther, Rode & Bonebrake was enlisted in the early 1960s to design a major overhaul of the convention facility. A modern metal-and-glass entry pavilion with adjoining galleries was added to Public Auditorium’s western façade on the abutting mall, providing transition to both the auditorium and the subterranean exhibit and convention spaces. Now named The Cleveland Convention Center, the improved venue began booking more events and larger crowds. At its peak of activity in the 1980s, the Convention Center was hosting upwards of several hundred events each year and drawing over 100,000 attendees per annum. Improvements to Mall B and other new high-rise construction throughout Cleveland further enhanced the local business environment.
However, despite a substantial interior renovation of exhibit facilities in 1983, the Cleveland Convention Center and Public Auditorium have in recent decades lost ground to venues in other cities, as well as to other newer local meeting and entertainment sites — Quicken Loans (formerly Gund) Arena, the Wolstein Center (Cleveland State University’s Convocation Center), Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field) and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
For the past decade and more, Cleveland, its citizens, its elected officials and its businessmen have wrestled with plans and dreams for the Cleveland Convention Center’s future. At one time or another, virtually every option has been broached — demolition, relocation, reconstruction, restoration, expansion, merger, privatization, perhaps even obliteration. Currently, plans proceed for the development of a Medical Mart at the northern end of Mall B, linked to a renovated and expanded subterranean convention center. Meanwhile, the fate of Public Auditorium remains uncertain.
Enter the west flank of Public Auditorium for access to Cleveland's partially-underground Convention Center.