Hall of Fame City Dreaming Bigger

The window in the conference room next to Dennis Saunier’s downtown office is like a looking glass into the future of Canton.

To understand how the entire project connects the county, look beyond the brick and mortar structures, of which there will be plenty. The big picture of the concept is to brand Canton, Ohio, as a partner with the NFL, but then help the league deliver a message that meshes with the values of football.

“We are the only city that can say this is the birthplace of the NFL. We are the only city that can say we are the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Saunier said. “With the brand of the NFL being one of the most recognized brands worldwide, we have a tremendous opportunity to build upon that legacy. The key question is how do we do that in a way the city can prosper? We’d be remiss as an organization if we did not try to see how does (downtown Canton) complement Hall of Fame Village.”

Saunier is of the belief—and he is not alone—that Market Square development should blend into Hall of Fame Village as well. For years, ideas have come and gone about how to tie downtown and the Hall of Fame. This, Saunier thinks, is the chance.

“Because of the Hall of Fame, everyone else is dreaming bigger, too.” —Dennis Saunier, President & CEO, Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce

All of this led to a meeting late last year in the office of David Baker, the president and executive director of the Hall of Fame. Saunier went in armed with facts and points about Market Square. Baker was on board, really, before anything was said.

“My response was that’s great because we’re going to need more stuff downtown when people come here,” Baker said. “I believe that to be true.”

That’s when Saunier said something in the meeting that made Baker’s day. Remember, Baker came to Canton from Henderson, Nevada, where he brought developers together to build the largest integrated health care village in the country, a $1 billion project. Baker had been the mayor of Irvine, California, and the commissioner of the Arena Football League. Because of what was said next, Baker went home to his wife, Colleen, and told her he had the best day of his brief career in Canton.

Saunier looked at Baker and said, “Because of Hall of Fame Village, everyone else is dreaming bigger, too.”

A smile comes across Baker’s face.

“This is a domino effect,” Baker said. “This isn’t just about finding capital. It’s about inspiration and dreaming. If you find the right products, the capital will come.”

Back in 1959, The Repository kicked off the idea of building the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, but behind the scenes, leaders and visionaries from the Timken Co. and other entities were instrumental.

“The days are gone when you had this corporate passion by a few companies and they would meet and Ambassador Timken, Bob Mahoney (former Diebold CEO) and Mr. Hoover would decide what they were doing for the arts, United Way, education and the community,” Baker said. “There’s such a centrality of power now. Thank goodness for guys like Ambassador Timken and others. From an economic development standpoint, that’s spread over 5,000 people now.

“What we’ve got to do is have a common vision to bring those people together. I think Hall of Fame Village does that. It’s not all about football. Our mission statement is broad. We can be a magnet. … The Hall of Fame has the responsibility, and I hope, an opportunity, to bring everyone together so we can have a unified vision.”

In essence, it takes a village to raise a belief, and drive to bring development to fruition. If Market Square is connected to the Hall of Fame Village, there are surrounding businesses downtown that would benefit. For most of its existence, the Hall of Fame has not been an overnight destination. Sure, some people come here and spend a few days during Hall of Fame Week festivities.

But the Hall and leaders of the Hall of Fame Festival already are making adjustments to make Canton a year-round destination. The Ribs Burnoff is ending and will be transformed into a wide-appealing food festival moved to September to coincide with the NFL season’s opening weekend.

The hope is that overnight hotel stays increase when the Village opens. The hope is that tying downtown to the Hall will create more experiences for visitors to stay three or four days, rather than making a day of it at the Hall of Fame. The hope is, like the Canton Brewing Company, more restaurants will come downtown, and Market Square will become a gathering point that draws people together with food, entertainment and the arts.

Where to buy

The Repository
Select Rite Aid Stores
Spee-D Foods
Buehler's Fresh Foods
Fishers Foods, including 44th Street NW, Tuscarawas St. W, Fulton Drive, Lincoln Way E. and Cleveland Ave. NW locations
Aultman Hospital Gift Shop
Mercy Medical Center Gift Shop
Gervasi Vineyard Marketplace
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, downtown Canton and Belden Village Mall locations
News Depot
Avenue Arts Marketplace
Yum Yum Tree Alliance
Grapes in a Glass