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.

“Anytime we see development like this, where you’re bringing people from outside the market into the market and those are overnight visits, that’s very good for everyone, certainly the region,” said Phil Craig, executive director of the Ohio Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus. “It is good for the entire state to have another destination to produce that reaction. We are hopeful about how this development will pan out, how welcoming it will be to visitors. We’re very optimistic.”

According to a study commissioned by the World Travel & Tourism Council, travel and tourism gross domestic product has outpaced the general economy for four straight years. It is estimated that travel and tourismwill contribute $7.3 trillion to the world GDP and will support 274 million jobs around the globe this year.

Canton, specifically, Northeast Ohio and the state generally just want to gradually grow their market share of that.

“My dad was a guy who couldn’t read or write. He wasn’t educated, but he was intelligent. He told me once, ‘Son, everything in life comes down to money, love and timing, and if you have your choice, pick timing because it can get you the other two.’ ” —David Baker, President, Pro Football Hall of Fame

While Hall of Fame Village is being constructed and all signals are pointing to 2020 to celebrate the NFL’s centennial season here, forecasts call for growth in the tourism sector. The World Travel & Tourism study predicted annual average world GDP growth of 4 percent through 2024.

The Hall of Fame Village dream is rooted in this kind of research. Visitors to Stark County generated $1.6 billion in 2013, according to a study done by TourismOhio. Nearly 14,000 people are employed in the county because of tourism, and tax revenue generated in 2013 was $187.4 million. To put that number in perspective, health care and social assistance employs about 28,000 people in Stark County, according to the 2012 census figures. Tourism employs half that and is the county’s fourth-largest industry in terms of employment.

What does all that mean for people who live here? It means 7.5 percent of salaried employees here are a result of tourism. The five industries impacted most are retail, food and beverage, recreation, hotels and transportation. If no one were employed by tourism, the unemployment rate in Stark County would double.

“Tourism is definitely an economic engine for Ohio and this region. Given the celebration you have at the Hall of Fame, that’s a major-league event now,” Craig said. “With the Village concept, visitors will have other reasons to come and stay overnight. The more destinations Ohio has like that, the more products we have to sell.

“There are competitive sets in the tourism business, and every state that touches us is a competitive set. The more we have to market against them, the better chance we have to bring people to Ohio. This does have a statewide impact and importance.”

Hall of Fame Village could help Stark County continue to outpace tourism in the state. According to the TourismOhio study, direct tourism sales in Stark County jumped 37 percent in 2012, more than four times the state’s pace for the same year, and 13.6 percent in 2013, or almost three times Ohio’s growth.

In 2013, one in every 13 jobs in Stark County was supported by tourism. What if that grows to one in every eight or nine by the time Hall of Fame Village opens in 2020? What if the NFL holds its draft here in April or May of 2020 and local leaders create another week of festivities?

fan“The Hall of Fame isn’t concerned about capturing all the revenues,” Baker said. “We want to create the economic engine so it spills over to a whole lot of other people. (Currently) you end up with a city, or a county that has to decide between a police officer, or a fireman or repairing potholes. Now what you’re doing is you’re making the economic engine bigger so you can afford all those things.”

Baker often compares the impact of Hall of Fame Village, on a smaller scale, to the impact of Disney. Baker is a Californian. He used to live about 10 minutes away from Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

“In 1955, it opened on 161 acres in the middle of an orange grove at the time,” Baker said. “Within six months, a Howard Johnson was building a hotel, then Hyatt was building one. Then there were multiple restaurants and gas stations.”

Baker, half-jokingly, points out that Walt Disney “did all that on the back of a cartoon mouse. We have living, breathing legends of the NFL, and a great metaphor for excellence.”

Add in the popularity of the NFL—45 of the top-rated 50 shows this past fall were NFL games—and it’s easy to see why Baker believes Canton can become the NFL’s amusement park for fans and, in addition, a beacon of leadership development for private business.

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