CLEVELAND — THE term "rock-and-roll" was coined here in 1951. Elvis Presley made his first major appearance in a suburb here in 1955. Record sales per capita in this city are ranked No. 1. And it won out over New York and Los Angeles as the home of the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Despite competition from at least a half-dozen other cities (some of whom had more convincing trivia to put forward), Cleveland has been made the site for the new multimedia facility. Construction work began last Friday, and the official groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for June.
"Our community came together in 1985 and 1986 to tell the New York Rock and Roll Foundation that Cleveland wanted it more than anybody," Michael Benz, executive director of the project, says. The city launched a campaign that rallied 660,000 petition signatures, drew 110,000 phone calls to a USA Today poll, and convinced the foundation of the city's ability to raise the necessary funds.
Conceived in 1985 by the record industry's top executives, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was established to preserve the history of the music and recognize its most outstanding artists and influences. Since the first induction ceremony in 1986, those honored include Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Dick Clark, and over 100 others in three categories: non-performers, early influences, and artists.
But after eight years of inductions, not a single ceremony has yet been held in Cleveland, a sensitive subject among image-conscious Clevelanders. Mr. Benz says, "I think that they don't understand that when you're doing a world-class project that truly is international in scope, and you're doing it on a $80 or $90 million basis, that it takes six or seven years to develop...."
From the beginning, the project has proved unwieldy. Management of the project from headquarters in both Cleveland and New York (home of the Hall of Fame's foundation) has been difficult. The planned site of the Hall of Fame, a prime location on Cleveland's waterfront, was not chosen until 1990 after it was decided that the previous location was too small. In addition, costs have escalated from $26 million to $84 million.
ALTHOUGH support from Clevelanders is, according to Benz, "growing back to where it was" when the city rallied to win the right to build, after seven years, "I think that there's still some skepticism until they actually see the dirt fly." Support from the record industry has also been hesitant at best. A spokeswoman for PolyGram Records, which boycotted January's inductions, had no comment on the groundbreaking, but suggested the company would be willing to talk "when it's up and running."
Even so, Susan Evans, director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, stands by the choice of location: "We felt very strongly that Cleveland had the strongest support and backing of its community - both the political and business community. We felt that of any of the cities, Cleveland would be able to make this happen."
But the way in which the project is happening has upset some Clevelanders. Roldo Bartimole, a local journalist, points out that the Hall of Fame "is being funded primarily through taxes. But there's been no public debate on this. There is not much knowledge of the meaning of the funding." Mr. Bartimole explains that although it is not illegal, "the city is voting to give away school taxes" to the project without a public vote.
The Hall of Fame has yet to announce names of any major corporate sponsors, and Bartimole calls the $5 million donated by the Hall of Fame Foundation (the record industry) "a pittance. They never really wanted to do it in Cleveland."
Regardless, completion of the Hall of Fame is planned for summer 1995, 10 years after the project's inception. Designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei, the glass-and-steel structure with a 165-foot tower actually protrudes into the harbor.
Ms. Evans projects the Hall of Fame will be "the only one of its kind" with interactive exhibits that will include computers and television monitors, "You Mix Music" booths, theaters, and a broadcasting booth available to guest disc jockeys.
Evans says guests will "come away better educated about this whole era, the history of the music, and the history as it relates to what was going on culturally, politically, in the world at the time of each era."
Hall of Fame planners conservatively anticipate 600,000 to
1 million visitors per year. But before Cleveland becomes a "destination location," the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has some convincing to do. Acknowledging that corporate support has only been lukewarm, Benz says, "It's hard to buy into a vision for anybody. I think we will gain support by our action."