Instead of thousands of football fans converging on the Pro Football Hall of Fame this week, there might be dozens. The coronavirus pandemic ensured that when the hall’s enshrinement ceremonies were postponed until next year, and the NFL canceled preseason games.
So while the museum is open to limited capacity, the scene in Canton, Ohio, during the first week in August has been muted.
No parades and dinners honoring the inductees. No gathering of Gold Jackets, the members of the sport’s most prestigious club. No football.
Yet, Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Company has convinced investors to join in its multi-dimensional business plan seeking to create what the company’s President/CEO Michael Crawford has referred to as a sports Disneyland: a sports, entertainment and media enterprise with football as its centerpiece.
That plan includes investing more than $300 million as part of Phase II of creating the Hall of Fame Village on approximately 600 acres surrounding the museum.
“At the end of the day, we had envisioned a really great project here in Canton around the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a destination that really served a lot of different constituent groups and honor the legends of the game and their legacies, and the Hall of Fame,” Crawford says.
At conclusion, the village will include everything from dozens of high-quality youth fields for such sports as football, soccer, lacrosse and others, to a multipurpose performance center to office space to facilities for research and treatment for getting athletes back on the field quickly. A water park is on the drawing board, plus a retail district.
“We have learned people want to be more immersed into an environment and they really want to have a chance to be immersed all about football and sports,” Crawford says. “And we think we will be able to give them that. We gained a level of stability and credibility for other investors when we went public. We were a predominantly focused real estate effort in Canton, but now have broadened that vision. We feel we can enter into the space of fantasy (the company has purchased the Crown League) and e-sports and others, where folks are having fun with football and other sports alike.”
The hope is to launch construction by the end of 2020, though in downtown Canton, a hotel in need of renovation is being converted into a premium hotel. A centennial plaza is due to be completed in September, including an area dedicated to everyone who has played pro football.
With COVID-19 forcing cancellation of so many events around the Hall of Fame — not just the usual August inductions but a special centennial class enshrinement next month, plus the Black College Hall of Fame Football Classic and the Division III national title game, all at the recently upgraded Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium — the prospect for getting the village going could have been bleak. An estimated 200,000 young athletes travel to Canton for youth sports activities, bringing along family and friends, too. Much of that was lost, though the village still plans to host events or tournaments in 2020, respecting COVID-19 guidelines.
And the optimism about the village remains strong.
Ed Roth, president/CEO of Aultman Health Foundation, and a Pro Football Hall of Fame board member, points to the uplifting atmosphere at the core of the project.
“It is that opportunity to take what is really the crown jewel of our community, and the importance of it to the NFL, and really the importance of football to our country — it is a big deal,” Roth says. “A lot of people enjoy the game and we want to take the opportunity to share the things around the game, whether it is the game itself, or the Hall of Fame. We get a new class every year. We want people who were here 10 years ago to have every reason to come back now. With their kids and grandkids, and see a lot of new things around the Hall of Fame, then go home and tell family and friends about it.
“Think of the energy you can create when you have a lot of different outlets: Hall of Fame game, museum, concerts, a water park, and national youth sports complex.”
NFL team owners have approved a $10 million investment into the village.
“At the point when we begin construction,” Crawford notes, “we expect their investment will come in. Beyond that, we’ve had programming support conversations, about staging meetings and coaches clinics and opportunities to help support the destination and create event revenue coming in. The NFL Alumni will be headquartered in Canton, as well.
“We have that support in that really it is them saying, “We believe in what you are doing, we believe in the hall and the Hall of Famers.”
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