August 20, 2014

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The Rock Hall celebrates 15 years

Crystal may be the appropriate gift for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s 15th anniversary, but you’d better believe Rock Hall officials are feeling golden these days. With the institution recently seeing its 8-millionth visitor through its doors, you can understand the need to celebrate.

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To mark those occasions, the Rock Hall is throwing a bash. The festivities, which begin tonight with the dedication of the Leo M. Mintz Gallery, continue Friday with the Rock Hall Ball, featuring DJ Tommie Sunshine, alternative-rock band Foxy Shazam and Eli “Paperboy” Reed.

It seems like only yesterday that Cleveland was named home of the museum after USA Today readers overwhelmingly voted for Northeast Ohio to represent the home of rock ’n’ roll. From a business standpoint, Rock Hall President and CEO Terry Stewart gives perspective on the original idea for the venue versus what actually happened.

“I recently found a feasibility study, a strategic plan from 1988 when the building was going to be behind Tower City,” Stewart said. “There wasn’t going to be a store, and there’s no mention of education and philanthropy. Here it is 15 years later, and we have this gorgeous building on the lake. We have probably the deepest and most award-winning education program coming out of the museum. We are raising money all over the country to support the efforts to preserve this music, and we just opened a library over at Cuyahoga Community College’s downtown campus.

“It really shows that everyone involved had a great vision to build this. But they weren’t sure what it was or how it would work. They just felt the concept was a great idea. We just had our 8-millionth visitor, and 90 to 95 percent of the patrons are from outside Ohio. That’s why the Rock Hall is so hugely economically impactful — they always thought it would be a 50-50 split. It’s just like one of those things that evolves, and you develop your business accordingly. It’s just turned out to be a huge success for Cleveland.”

A driving force behind the museum’s success is the Rock Hall Foundation, which recently created a $5 million endowment and has been the largest single contributor to the institution — to the tune of $13 million over the last five years. This includes annual support for capital improvements, $8 million toward the capital campaign and $1 million to develop a long-term digital strategy and a complete redesign of the museum website.

“The foundation was originally started to find a place to house the museum, which Cleveland has done admirably for the last 15 years,” said Rock Hall Foundation President and CEO Joel Peresman. “The goal of the foundation is to do everything in our power — financially, marketing-wise, spiritually — to support the museum, drive business to the museum and to Cleveland.”

Part of the Foundation’s fundraising efforts came last fall with the star-studded 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concerts (U2, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica and more) held at Madison Square Garden and representing the Rock Hall Foundation’s beginning.

As for the Rock Hall, over the years there have been many memorable live events, including its 1995 kick-off show (featuring Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Jerry Lee Lewis and more) at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, as well as its annual American Masters celebrations. The latter has featured live performances by Robert Plant, Elvis Costello and others.

Then there was last year’s Rock ’n’ Roll Induction Ceremony, which for the first time was open to fans and held at Public Hall in Cleveland. The event was an overwhelming success, and, according to Peresman, the Rock Hall Foundation took notice.

“It was fabulous,” Peresman said. “It exceeded all of our goals and expectations. It was just a beautiful experience, and Public Hall was a perfect venue for it. It really opened our eyes. Frankly, it has made us take a look at what we can do differently in the future because we like the idea of having large public audiences — besides the people who pay big dollars — to sit at the tables. So now we have a great template of how to make things work.”

Cleveland is next scheduled to host the 2012 induction ceremonies. By then, the Rock Hall may have a different look at its current location, as well as around downtown Cleveland.

“I think opening the library is a huge event,” Stewart said. “Next year when it opens up to the public, people can visit it for free and watch or hear or read or study anything we have. The New York Foundation allowed us to get the library built, and the proceeds from the concerts last year created an endowment. Our real focus in the near term is to continue to grow that endowment on our financial reserves so the future is secure for the museum.”

Among the pressing needs, Stewart said, is additional space.

“We have to have some vision about how we connect to the (Great Lakes) Science Center,” he said. “We’ve done a feasibility study about a possible restaurant between the two entities, and the ability to build additional space for more classrooms and temporary exhibits. Those are the things we’ll be looking at here in the next five to 15 years.

“And there are new things coming. We’re redesigning the building, so 18 months from now you’ll have a very different visitor experience, a much more beneficial experience both in terms of what you learn about the music and how you experience the music technologically.”

Stewart is obviously proud of how far the Rock Hall has come and where it’s headed.

“Having a business model that works with 8 million visitors in 15 years, where we get a half-million visitors on average (annually), there are so many wonderful stories to be told,” he said. “It’s not just propaganda. It’s turned out to be a great success.”

Rock Hall Ball

  • When: 8:30 p.m. Friday
  • Where: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, One Key Plaza, Cleveland
  • Tickets: $15 to $65
  • Info: Call (216) 781-7625 or visit Rockhall.com