From Ohio Business Growth Guide 2024

Deck These Halls

Tourism surges as Ohio expands iconic Halls of Fame.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo courtesy of Ohio, The Heart of it All

by Ron Starner

hat do two hall of fame expansions have to do with a major theme parks merger? A lot if you’re following Ohio tourism closely.

In a state that annually welcomes 233 million visitors and $53 billion in tourist spending, the groundwork is being laid to feed even bigger appetites for wanderlust.

In Canton, the historic birthplace of professional football, an $80 million expansion project is underway to ensure that even more visitors set foot each year in the iconic Pro Football Hall of Fame. Known as the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Museum Modernization Project, this 3-to-5-year plan is the biggest expansion project in the 61-year history of the hall.

The technology-driven overhaul includes a complete renovation and modernization of the existing 120,000-sq.-ft. Hall of Fame and Museum, a new 8,000-sq.-ft. Grand Lobby featuring high-tech interactive exhibits, additional office and storage space, and an 18,500-sq.-ft. Event Center Complex.

As part of the project, the Black College Football Hall of Fame will make its permanent home within the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Museum.

“The Pro Football Hall of Fame has been working for almost two years on a modernization plan,” says Jim Porter, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “It will represent the most significant investment in the Hall’s history and its biggest makeover since opening in 1963. We believe this project will position the Hall to be the leader in economic development for the area that was envisioned when it opened 61 years ago.”

Each July, the Hall of Fame enshrines new inductees into its hallowed halls. Today, 371 bronze busts pay tribute to these gridiron legends. Economists estimate that the annual Hall of Fame Induction Weekend in July generates more than $42 million in economic impact throughout the Akron-Canton area of Northeast Ohio.

More than 10 million people have visited the Hall of Fame since its inception. About 208,000 people paid a visit in 2023. The Hall expects that total to double in three years once the expansion takes place.

Pro-Football-Hall-of-Fame-in-CantonVisitors take in the Black College Football Hall of Fame at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Photo courtesy of Ohio, The Heart of it All

The Birthplace of Football Beckons Fans of All Sports
Pro football was invented in Canton, Ohio, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for sports of every variety in the Buckeye State. In fact, one glance at the history books shows you that, when it comes to sports, nobody does it better than Ohioans.

Oscar Robertson turned Cincinnati into a basketball town. Jack Nicklaus turned Ohioans into golf fans; and the greatest athlete of all time changed the course of history.

That would be Jesse Owens, of course. The one-time Ohio State University track and field star performed at the highest level on the grandest stage, the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, where he outran and outjumped the best athletes that Adolf Hitler threw at him. In so doing, Owens didn’t just break the color barrier; he broke the fighting spirit of the Third Reich and helped the Allies win World War II.

The list of legendary Ohio athletes goes on and on, from LeBron James and Shirley Fry of Akron to Pete Rose and Barry Larkin of Cincinnati, but what really sets Ohio apart is the way its sports teams identify with the people of their community.

You can’t separate the Dawg Pound from the Cleveland Browns. You can’t stop Cincinnati Bengals fans from chanting “Who Dey.” And you can’t stop Columbus Crew supporters from wearing hard hats as they celebrate another Major League Soccer championship.

From FC Cincinnati and the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Cleveland Guardians and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ohio offers championship-caliber sports teams for fans of every stripe and jersey.

On the collegiate level, no one cheers harder than Buckeye fans at The Horseshoe, Bearcat hoops fans at the University of Cincinnati, or diehard soccer fans at the University of Akron.

And if you happen to be in Dayton on a weeknight in mid-March, check out the action at the NCAA First Four on the home court of the Dayton Flyers. As hoops fans everywhere will tell you, there’s no atmosphere like it anywhere in sports.

Honoring the GOATs of Rock
Drive 60 miles north of Canton up Interstate 77, and you’ll arrive at another significant tourist destination in the Buckeye State: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. This shrine pays homage to the world’s greatest legends of pop and rock music, and it is receiving a makeover of its own.

The signature glass pyramid on Cleveland’s North Coast Harbor will undergo a $135 million facelift that will add 50,000 sq.-ft. to its 155,000-sq.-ft. space and include a 788-sq.-ft. stage platform and 1,831-sq.-ft. mezzanine. Designed by Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU), the expansion will integrate the original design of I.M. Pei with the urban Cleveland lakefront. Groundbreaking for the project was held in October 2023.

The expansion includes a state-of-the-art education center and a 6,000-sq.-ft. multipurpose venue. “This transformation will expand the Rock Hall’s iconic structure to meet the demands of its evolving mandate: to showcase the past, present and future of rock & roll as the defining sound of each generation’s youth,” said Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder and creative director at PAU.

Cedar Point in Sandusky Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.
Photo courtesy of Ohio, The Heart of it All

A Merger of Roller-Coasters
While Ohio’s two most famous halls of fame get bigger and more modern, another legacy name is receiving its own injection of new life. Cedar Fair, the owner and operator of Cedar Point and Kings Island — two of the most famous theme parks in America — is merging with Six Flags in an $8 billion deal that brings 42 amusement parks, nine resorts and 15 water parks across the U.S., Canada and Mexico under one corporate umbrella.

Shareholders voted to approve the merger on March 12, making the new entity one of the largest entertainment companies on the planet. Cedar Point in Sandusky is the flagship park of Cedar Fair, which also owns Knott’s Berry Farm in California, Kings Island in Cincinnati, and Kings Dominion in Richmond, Virginia. Cedar Fair shareholders possess a 51% stake in the new company, which is expected to generate $3.4 billion in revenue.

Theme parks, halls of fame and lots of other attractions keep Ohio’s tourism industry humming. In 2022, around 233 million tourist visits supported 424,339 jobs and generated 47 million overnight visits. Total visitor spending, meanwhile, rose from $47 billion in 2021 to $53 billion in 2022.

To keep visitor traffic flowing, Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted unveiled a new “Ohio, The Heart of it All” ad campaign in 2023. Used as the state’s tourism slogan from 1984 to 2001, the tagline is back to showcase that “this is a brand for all of Ohio, uniting everything we love about our great state under one powerful phrase,” DeWine said.

To see all Ohio has to offer throughout its beautiful 4-seasons, visit

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.


Ohio's competitive business climate, location, workforce and quality of life make the Buckeye State the right place for business.

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