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The Economics of Rock

From the beginning, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has been a place of dreams, not only for music fans, but for civic leaders, who have consistently touted the place as a tourist dollar magnet . Before the glass and concrete structure rose on the lakefront, local officials were predicting the Rock Hall would attract 600,000 visitors to Cleveland each year and inject at least 85 million dollars a year into the regional economy. By the time of the grand opening in 1995, the annual attendance projections had risen to one million people. But in fact, the latest visitor numbers are under a half million.

Dennis Roche heads the Convention and Visitors Bureau, recently renamed "Positively Cleveland". And he argues that the Rock Hall has actually exceeded expectations.

DENNIS ROCHE: It is true that whenever you are promoting a project, often times you get very positive, glowing kinds of estimates up front, but this particular project, this museum, has actually delivered more value than I believe the originators thought it was going to do.

As proof, Roche says the Rock Hall generates 107 million dollars annually. Cleveland State economist Ned Hill suggests that inflated projections for numerous development projects, ranging from Gateway to the Medical Mart, have tended to make the public cynical about the true value of these facilities. He says it's not fair to expect any one institution to shoulder the burden of turning the region around.

NED HILL: If you judge the Rock Hall on: Do we get this party every single year, do you get a million visitors --- based on that, no, it didn't work. But, the fact is: it DID work. It's a functioning structure, it's something that nobody else has, its balance sheets and finances are okay, and it's part of the mix of a downtown. But, it's not everything.

This week's mix of activities surrounding the Rock Hall inductions will bring seven to ten million dollars to the Greater Cleveland, according to a recent report. If so, some local leaders will probably be singing along to the music of Jeff Beck, Saturday night … as this year's inductees celebrate in downtown Cleveland.

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.