CANTON Bulldozers and graders are moving dirt and leveling the ground in what used to be the neighborhood overlooking what used to be Fawcett Stadium.
Meanwhile, on Market Avenue S in downtown Canton crews have installed new sidewalks and curbs while workers put the finishing touches on what for years was know as the McKinley Grand.
Both projects are the beginning for Phase II of the Hall of Fame Village Powered by Johnson Controls.
Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment — the company formed to create Hall of Fame Village — has invested more than $20 million to revamp the downtown hotel into a DoubleTree by Hilton. The work should be finished in mid-October, said Anne Graffice, executive vice president of public affairs.
Later this week, a virtual groundbreaking officially will mark construction of the Constellation Center for Excellence, which will anchor the west end of Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
It’s estimated that 18 months will be needed to complete the center. Plans call for the stadium scoreboard to be anchored on the office building.
“We are excited to begin phase two of the project, with the Constellation Center for Excellence being the first component to break ground,” Michael Crawford, Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Co. president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement.
“We look forward to sharing with the Canton community and the region world-class, state-of-the-art office buildings, sports venues and entertainment opportunities for all to enjoy and be proud of,” Crawford said.
What comes next?
The next steps in Phase II will be construction of two more youth fields and the 135,000-square-feet Center for Performance. That work is pegged for land southwest of the stadium.
North toward Fulton Road NW, plans are for construction of a 180-room Hilton Tapestry Hotel, called The Eleven, and a football-themed water park. A retail promenade will lie in between, tying the complex together.
Blake Avenue NW will be widened as an access road from Fulton Road to Hall of Fame Village.
Work also needs to be done on stadium’s east end zone area. Early plans indicated additional stands, but that has changed. Graffice expects the area will be cleared and leveled to create space for an entertainment zone.
According to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company plans to complete the Phase II projects by the end of 2023.
Canton’s crown jewel
The project’s focus remains the Pro Football Hall of Fame, referred to as Canton’s crown jewel since efforts to develop HOF Village became public.
“We’re building what we’re building because the Hall is the Hall,” Graffice explained.
Since opening in 1963, the Hall has been a destination for football fans. Generally, the museum has been a one-day trip.
Over the past 10 years, the Hall has grown as an attraction. The museum expanded and added amenities as it approached its 50th anniversary. Meanwhile, the museum, under a corporate entity called the National Football Museum, began acquiring parcels nearby in anticipation of future growth.
The effort took off in 2014 with plans to rebuild then-75-year-old Fawcett Stadium.
Rebuilding the stadium and development of several football fields south of McKinley High School were Phase I of the village development. A hotel, retail center and other facilities were included in original plans, but never materialized. Problems securing financing stalled the effort.
The situation changed this summer with the creation of Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment following the merger of HOF Village LLC and Gordon Pointe Acquisition. The new entity is a publicly traded company led by Crawford. Industrial Realty Group, led by developer Stuart Lichter, and the Hall of Fame are shareholders in the new company.
Crawford came on board as HOF Village CEO in December 2018 after 25 years with Walt Disney Co. followed by four years at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Co.
He rose through the ranks at Disney to president for Walt Disney Holdings Co. in Shanghai and led the development of Shanghai Disney from 2007 to 2014. At Four Seasons Hotels, he started as president of Asia Pacific and went on to be global president of portfolio management.
When Crawford joined the project, Phase I construction had ended. In January 2019, Constellation Energy, a Baltimore-based company, purchased naming rights for the Center of Excellence. The multiyear deal provided $30 million toward the building and made Constellation exclusive power and gas provider for the Village.
In August 2019, plans were announced to align the HOF Village project with Gordon Pointe Acquisition. It took until July — the coronavirus pandemic factored into the delay, Graffice said — for the deal to secure shareholder approval and close.
In between, Crawford’s team bought the McKinley Grand Hotel. Arrangements also were made to align the hotel with DoubleTree by Hilton, giving the facility national brand recognition for the first time in 15 years.
Graffice said work at the downtown hotel shows the Village’s commitment to the city, as well as its partnership with the community. The Village borrowed $3.5 million from the city for the project and has 10 years to repay at a 0.5% interest rate.
The city, Stark County government and several foundations have assisted the development efforts. HOF Village officials appreciate the support, Crawford said.
“We say it constantly but it couldn’t be more true, it takes a Village to build this Village and those supports are critical to the realization of this project,” said Crawford in a statement.