Expansion in Cleveland: Rock Hall breaks ground on new wing
To paraphrase Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Yardbirds, the museum on Lake Erie is growing over, under, sideways, down - breaking ground on a more than $100-million expansion project Thursday.
The new wing will add exhibit and event space as well as increase the museum's footprint by a third to 205,000 square feet. There will also be a new entryway with a grand staircase, which will be free and open to the public.
Rock Hall CEO Greg Harris said the new design complements the I.M. Pei-designed building, which opened in 1995.
“It picks up the geometry of the iconic pyramid with triangles and spheres and cylinders, and then it projects it out from the pyramid, soaring to the west,” he said. “It creates a space where you see the lake as soon as you walk in and see this open space. It’s amazing how they did this.”
Pei passed away in 2019, and the expansion is designed by a group of local and New York-based firms. Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin, Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne and Cleveland Planning Director Joyce Pan Huang said the new expansion could spark conversation around a different project: For the past decade, plans have been stalled for a pedestrian bridge - spanning over railroad tracks and expressway - connecting Downtown to the lakefront.
“Having that connection across the heavy infrastructure is really critical,” Huang said. “We are working on a master plan that we’re hoping to have adopted by January, as well as the connector project, which is under engineering study. The idea is that next year, once we’ve completed those studies, we would have a strategy of how to implement.”
The price tag for the Rock Hall’s expansion project was $100 million when presented to city officials in the spring. Construction bids are still being received, and the museum has raised $135 million. Most of that comes from private sources, but the state also kicked in $9.5 million. The expansion will cap a decade of changes at the museum, including an outdoor stage, interactive garage band area, a theater to showcase highlights of the induction ceremonies and the much-photographed Long Live Rock sign on the main plaza. Work is slated to begin in November and wrap up by early 2026.
Also turning the first shovels in the dirt were several Rock Hall inductees: Martha Reeves of Martha & the Vandellas, Sam Moore of Sam & Dave, Charlotte Caffey and Gina Schock of the Go-Gos and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas.
The ground breaking comes just weeks after former Rock Hall boardmember Jann Wenner made comments diminishing Black and female artists; he was removed from the board after those comments were published. Harris said Wenner’s issue does not impact the need for an expansion of the building on Lake Erie.
“A lot of people realize there's a distinction between his statements and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum here,” he said. “The inductees that joined us today, it was wonderful that it was diverse. Their passionate belief in this building, what it means to them to be inductees, is really powerful and supportive.”