Game Winner

Canton, OH is upgrading its football legacy with an ambitious mixed-use development built around the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Are you ready for some football?

Canton OHLoyal readers of this space know that we’ve occasionally taken a jaundiced view of economic development projects that are dependent on professional sports leagues and their migratory franchises. We’ve chronicled the bidding wars that are the modus operandi of pro sports empires in America, sordid spectacles that force cities to ante up staggering amounts of public funding for billion-dollar stadiums to lure a team or to keep one from moving to another location.

Earlier this year, we told you how Las Vegas purloined the NFL’s Raiders from Oakland, CA after Clark County, NV agreed to finance $750 million of the cost of a new $1.9-billion stadium. The Raiders move was the culmination of a tawdry round of musical chairs orchestrated by the NFL; when the music stopped, three football cities with historic roots in the sport (Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis) were left paying the bills for empty stadiums, while Los Angeles secured two teams for its palatial new sports complex and Vegas got its ticket punched for gridiron glory.

The sales pitch to secure public funds for new stadiums and arenas often makes these sports facilities the centerpiece of ambitious mixed-used economic development plans heralded as the key to downtown or waterfront revitalization. These efforts aim to replicate one of the original success stories, the transformation of Baltimore’s waterfront district with the construction of the Camden Yards baseball stadium.

Since we’ve expended a lot of pixels on the negative side of sports-centric development projects, let’s look at one that getting it right.

The redevelopment of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the focal point of a $750-million mixed-use project that is the largest development in the history of Canton, OH. This ambitious effort aims to transform the relatively obscure pigskin shrine into a year-round attraction for football fans and a bustling center of commerce, giving Cooperstown, NY a run for its money as the nation’s leading setting for sports immortality.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will be surrounded by a new 200-acre campus known as the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village (the tech company is paying $100 million for the naming rights); nearby is the recently completed $155-million Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, which can seat 23,000 and has an 80,000-square-foot skydeck and suites. The adjacent National Youth Football and Sports Complex will feature eight NFL-grade playing fields where youth squads can practice in the shadow of football’s all-time greats.

Ground soon will be broken for a $58-million Hall of Fame Promenade, a $38-million Center for Excellence and a $77-million Performance Center entertainment complex. The promenade will consist of 50,500 square feet of retail space plus 68 residential units. The Performance Center, which will host conventions and concerts, can be converted into a 5.500-seat indoor football arena and has an outdoor practice field as well.

The folks in Canton also are building a $182-million attraction they’re calling the Hall of Fame Experience, a 240,000-square-foot building, attached to a water park, that will deploy advanced video, audio and digital technology to give visitors a 3-D holographic view of what it’s like to be an NFL quarterback (would-be Joe Theismanns are advised to keep their eyes peeled for the holographic version of Lawrence Taylor). Johnson Controls and Santa Monica, CA-based Immersive Artistry are providing the technology.

Construction has begun on a $115-million, 243-room hotel that includes a 25,000-square-foot conference center and 65,000 square feet of retail space. Research and healthcare facilities also are being developed at the site: a $35-million Player Care Center will feature a 26,000-square-foot surgical center with a 20-room behavioral sciences and treatment unit; the center also will include Legends Landing, a 144-bed assisted-living and “memory care” facility.

We can’t put it any better than the Canton mayor’s office, which is calling this imaginative project a “life-changer” for the Ohio city. Canton is aiming for an end zone of prosperity built around its football legacy. Here’s hoping they score the winning touchdown.