The Cleveland Convention Center was a convention center located in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States. Built by the city of Cleveland beneath the Cleveland Mall adjacent to Public Auditorium, it was completed in 1964. Plans for the convention center were first made in 1956, but voters twice rejected initiatives to fund construction before approving a bond levy in November 1963. A local private foundation donated several million dollars to beautify the mall atop the convention center with a reflecting pool and fountains.
Construction was plagued by issues with ground water, protests, strikes, and cost overruns. A major dispute broke out between civil rights activists and labor unions in the summer of 1963. Nevertheless, the convention center informally opened on May 11, 1964, almost three months ahead of schedule. A formal dedication on August 28, 1964, was followed an 11-day festival.
The Cleveland Convention Center underwent a major $28 million renovation from 1983 to 1987. Substantially reconfigured, although not larger, it reopened on October 5, 1987. The convention center was demolished in 2011, and the larger Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland built in the same underground location. It opened on June 7, 2013.
Some time in 1954, Cleveland MayorAnthony J. Celebrezze asked local architect R. Franklin Outcalt of the Cleveland architectural firm of Outcalt Guenther & Associates to work with him on a place for revitalizing the Cleveland Mall and lakefront near it. Outcalt agreed to donate his services for free. On May 29, 1956, Celebrezze and Outcalt unveiled their preliminary plan before a local committee supporting the International Geophysical Year. The plan proposed an “international center” which would lead from Public Auditorium’s exhibition space under Mall C (the northernmost part of the Cleveland Mall) over the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway and New York Central Railroad tracks and toward Cleveland Stadium. The center would be primarily exhibition space, although an underground parking garage would be included. The plan also called for an 18-story hotel on land east of E. 9th Street, a 30-story office building[lower-alpha 1] with space set aside for companies engaged in international trade and representatives of foreign governments, an above-ground hall[lower-alpha 2] with permanent exhibits about international trade, an outdoor amphitheater,[lower-alpha 3] a swimming pool with a restaurant overlooking it,[lower-alpha 4] a plaza[lower-alpha 5] surrounded by stores selling foreign goods, and a reflecting pool.[lower-alpha 6] The plan also called for moving sidewalks on E. 9th Street between Lakeside Avenue and Euclid Avenue, and another running down W. Mall Drive from Lakeside Avenue to Rockwell Avenue and Public Square. Celebrezze said he would ask the Cleveland City Council for funds to conduct a preliminary study of the plan. But no such request was made.
In January 1956, New York City real estate developerWilliam Zeckendorf ran into Celebrezze at the meeting of the American Municipal Association. Celebrezze invited Zeckendorf to his hotel room, where Celebrezze showed him plans for the “international center”, hotel, and office building. Zeckendorf agreed to back the project financially and become its lead real estate developer if Celebrezze could win approval for the deal.
At a meeting on March 9, 1956, the board Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau (CCVB) approved a resolution asking the city to fund the construction of a new convention center to replace or augment Public Auditorium. Mayor Celebrezze responded by challenging the CCVB to come up with a plan. Dan B. Wiles, CCVB president, appointed Lee C. Howley, Vice President and General Counsel of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (a local electricity provider), to appoint and lead a committee to develop this plan.
On April 28, 1956, the New York Coliseum opened in New York City. Prompted by the opening of the convention center, and by comments from leaders of the Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau (who indicated the city was losing convention business due to the small size of Public Auditorium), Cleveland City Council member Joseph Horwitz introduced a resolution in May to require the city to study the construction of a new convention center. In June, Mayor Celebrezze proposed that the “international center” be built as the new convention center. Celebrezze’s proposal enlarged the scheme by having the building extend toward the Lake Erie shore, and extending an ell eastward over the space then occupied by stadium parking lots. This structure would be three stories tall, and have parking for 4,000 vehicles. Celebrezze used mayoral funds to hire Outcalt to conduct a feasibility study of the project.