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Even in a Pandemic the CEO of Canton’s Hall of Fame Village is Bullish on the Project’s Future

Pro Football Hall of Fame Village retail rendering
Hall of Fame Village
A rendering of potential shopping and dining at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Village in Canton.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Village has run into numerous delays since it first started construction in 2015. At times it’s struggled to find financing, and costs have soared to a projected $900 million for the entire venture.

But CEO Mike Crawford is confident those troubles are in the past.

The former Disney executive said a recent merger with an acquisition firm that took the company public has him feeling optimistic about finishing the next phase of construction in just two years.

“When we merged with Gordon Pointe it gave us access to liquidity,” Crawford said.

The merger created the all new Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Company with access to much needed capital. It’s the next step in creating Crawford’s vision of creating the Disneyland of Football.

That access to capital has not always been there for the Hall of Fame Village. In 2018 contractors filed millions of dollars in liens against the project for unpaid construction costs.

But Crawford is confident going public is a turning point.

“In the early days when you’re building a destination that’s part of how you get that destination, and the company stood up,” he said.

Building a destination during a pandemic

Though the coronavirus pandemic caused delays, construction on the second phase of the project includes research facilities, hotels, dining, shopping, and even a waterpark started in earnest in September.

“I don’t know that anyone would have anticipated the impact that COVID-19 has had on most of the world,” Crawford said.

But he said his team had the right construction partners and liquidity to be able to pivot. He’s betting people will be hungry for resort destinations when the pandemic is behind us.

“Honestly speaking we anticipate in building in a down market, a market where people aren’t really going to these types of assets and opening at a time when people are starved for this type of experience,” he said.

By the time construction on the second phase is slated to be completed in 2022, Crawford thinks the Hall of Fame is positioned to tap into a need for social gathering centered around sports culture.

“If the world is in the same place it’s in today two years from now, we have a whole different set of problems,” he said.

A new kind of sports hall of fame

Crawford’s vision for the Hall of Fame Village is more in line with Disneyworld than Cooperstown.

“I don’t like comparing us to other hall of fames. The luxury of what we have available to us is land,” he said.

Crawford said its Canton footprint gives it the expandability that other sports hall of fames just don’t have.

“With land comes the ability to create assets and events and have great partnerships that we can bring to the table,” he said.

He sees it as “a legacy opportunity to create something that will impact not only Canton and this region, but people who enjoy professional football and sport in general on many different levels across many different mediums.”

Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.