Former Disney Executive
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Former Disney Executive Aims to Score With Disneyland of Football

Former Disney Executive Aims to Score With Disneyland of Football

Project’s hotels, apartments and water park would be centered around Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio

By Konrad Putzier
Aug. 4, 2020

Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., closed in March and began a phased reopening in July at reduced capacity. Recently, the park has delayed the reopening of some resorts and attractions as Florida has grappled with rising infection rates from the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Hong Kong’s Disneyland closed in mid-July, about a month after an attempted reopening, following a new Covid-19 outbreak in the city. It had initially closed in January. A number of theme parks in the U.S. remain closed, or partially reopened.

Mr. Crawford said he hopes that by the end of 2022—when the project’s second phase is scheduled for completion—the pandemic will be over and football fans will be eager to travel again.

“The people’s hunger and desire to consume sports and be in environments like arenas and stadiums and destinations like this will be at an all-time high,” he said. “We will be building in a down market and opening in an up market.”

Mr. Crawford, who grew up in Ohio and roots for the National Football League’s Cleveland Browns, spent 25 years at Disney. He was involved in developing theme parks in the U.S., Japan and China. When he took over the company behind the football project in 2018, he decided to break the resort plans into two phases, with apartments and more attractions to be added later.

“We were a little too ambitious,” he said. The company building the project, Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Co., recently bought a hotel in downtown Canton that it is renovating. It also acquired a majority stake in a fantasy football league.

Mr. Crawford said he hopes branching out into sports betting and esports will help reassure investors at the same time hotels and theme parks are attracting few guests. He added that he plans to develop original content, including a television show about young football players trying to become professionals.

The main shareholders in Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment are developer Industrial Realty Group LLC, the Hall of Fame and financial adviser M. Klein & Co.

Last month, Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment raised capital through an unconventional method: It went public by merging with what is known as a blank-check company, Gordon Pointe Acquisition Corp. These companies are an increasingly popular tool for technology companies to go public without a cumbersome initial public offering, but are rarely used to fund real-estate developments.

The developers initially planned to raise between $60 million and $80 million when they agreed to merge last year, according to Mr. Crawford, but ended up raising just $31 million after some of the blank-check company’s shareholders backed out of the deal during the pandemic.

“I think we were very lucky to retain the amount that we did,” Mr. Crawford said. To cover the shortfall, he said he plans to raise more equity, possibly through the federal opportunity-zone program. He said that he is also in talks with banks over a construction loan of more than $200 million.

James Dolan, Gordon Pointe’s founder, said he doesn’t consider the merger a real-estate deal, in part because of the emphasis on esports and media production, and compared the new company to Disney. “I don’t consider Disney to be a real-estate company,” he said.

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