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Why demolishing the Wolstein Center is a good move for CSU and Cleveland

CSU curtains off parts of the arena during basketball games to make the Wolstein Center look smaller.
Terry Pluto
Cleveland State University curtains off parts of the arena during basketball games to make the Wolstein Center look smaller.

Cleveland State University’s proposed new master plan includes tearing down the 31-year-old Wolstein Center. The deteriorating Downtown arena where CSU plays basketball has been running a deficit for years.

Ideastream Public Media commentator Terry Pluto said the Wolstein Center, initially called the CSU Convocation Center, was expected to be the city's preeminent arena when it opened in 1991.

At the time, the Cavs played at the Richfield Coliseum in Summit County which had 20,000 seats. The Wolstein Center has 13,610 seats.

"What they didn't know is that the Gateway Project was getting up and going, which was going to build a new arena Downtown and a new baseball stadium," Pluto said.

Once then-Gund Arena opened in 1994 with its nearly 19,500 seats, the Wolstein Center was too big for mid-major college sports and too little for the prime concerts and other events. It now runs about a $1 million deficit each year.

Pluto attended a CSU basketball game at the Wolstein Center this past week.

"If you're walking through the tunnels and everything down there, it needs a lot of work," he said. "In fact, the scoreboard ... is not even working right. They just let it go. They try to curtain it off and everything else. It's not just way too big for basketball, it's way too big for a lot of the events they have there."

CSU's new $650 million proposed master plan includes tearing down the Wolstein Center.

"That property in that area Downtown is very valuable in terms of real estate and [the plan includes] building a new, smaller arena somewhere else on the campus," Pluto said. "They have a couple of sites they're looking at."

Pluto said he talked with CSU Athletic Director Scott Garrett, who said the plan is to build an arena with 5,000 to 7,000 seats.

A night view of the proposed new CSU arena and field house .
Cleveland State University
A night view of the proposed new CSU arena and field house .

"I actually even suggested 4,000 and make it smaller and intimate," Pluto said. "And they're talking about being in partnership with somebody else. Try to partner with the Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage so they could go and bid on almost any type of event ... And in the meantime, it's just a more practical thing for the basketball situation there."

Pluto said CSU averages about 2,500 fans each game.

"If they just wanted to replace the Wolstein Center with another arena and had nothing to do with the rest of the campus, no, I'm not doing that," he said. "But the arena being part of the adding dorms and upgrading some of their other facilities and things like that, that makes sense."

Pluto graduated from CSU in 1977 when he said "there was hardly anything there."

"So, there's 14,000 students there now. They're projecting will be higher, which was not the case when I went," Pluto said. "There is a demand for on-campus housing. It's not just a 'commuter school.' It kind of makes sense."

CSU says details of the master plan are yet to come. The board of trustees is expected to approve the plan at its Jan. 26 meeting.

"This is how you stay viable in a Midwestern city such as Cleveland," Pluto said. "I say go for it. Be smart, but go for it."

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