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Cleveland Scrambling for Last-Minute Rock Hall of Fame Money

November 13, 1989

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Backers of a shrine to the likes of Elvis Presley, Little Richard and the Beatles are frantically trying to drum up enough money to build the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Wednesday is the deadline for raising the $40 million needed to build the structure, which would rise in downtown Cleveland near the Cuyahoga River by 1992.

Local promoters figure about 600,000 people would push through the turnstiles of the pyramid-shaped, glass-and-steel complex each year and spend $85 million in restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops.

Organizers canvassing corporate Cleveland for donations expect to meet the fund-raising goal in cash and pledges, said the project’s development director, John Zoilo.

″It’s gone through some rough stages. However, now it’s on firm financial footing,″ Zoilo said. ″We’re confident we’ll be there. We’re closing the gap every day.″

As of Sunday, more than $37 million was collected in cash and pledges from state, local and federal governments and from private companies and philanthropists, said Larry Thompson, rock hall director in Cleveland.

Last week, a local nightclub and restaurant developer, Jeffrey Jacobs, offered to chip in up to $500,000.

Three years ago, Cleveland beat out seven other cities for the project, sponsored by the New York-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, which also set the funding deadline.

Since 1986, the foundation, comprised of recording industry executives and artists’ promoters and managers, has inducted performers into a Hall of Fame, though the organization lacked a building. Even after the hall is built, induction ceremonies probably would remain in New York, said Suzan Evans, the foundation’s executive director.

The Rust Belt city whose main claim to musical fame has been its highly regarded symphony orchestra may seem an unlikely site to honor rock ‘n’ roll. Its few native rockers include the Poni-Tails, the Edsels, the Outsiders, the James Gang and the Raspberries.

But promoters say Cleveland has earned Huey Lewis’ accolade as the ″heart of rock ‘n’ roll,″ noting the city’s residents lead the nation in per capita record purchases and have a history of supporting rock music.

The city’s rock heyday was in the 1950s, when WJW-AM disc jockey Alan Freed dubbed himself ″Moon Dog″ and began broadcasting his nightly show.

Boosters claim Cleveland was the scene of the first big rock concert - the Moon Dog Coronation Ball featuring the Dominoes, Earl Bostwick and others - for which promoters Freed and Leo Mintz sold twice as many tickets as there were seats.

When Cleveland was chosen as site for the hall, community enthusiasm and pledges of support flowed. Even Mayor George Voinovich, a Phil Collins fan, and Gov. Richard Celeste donned Hall of Fame sweatshirts and campaigned for the project.

But support sputtered. One local campaign that sought individual donations of $15 or more produced only $300,000. The only rock group to donate was The Who, which has promised about $1 million from its concert tour this year, said Zoilo.

Last month, a $6.9 million federal Urban Development Action Grant, considered a key piece in the funding, fell through.

Ms. Evans declined to say if the foundation would pull the plug on the Cleveland hall if boosters don’t raise $40 million.

″We’re still very optimistic about Cleveland,″ she said. ″Their (financial) information will be analyzed.″

Other cities that courted the project were San Francisco, Chicago, Nashville, Philadelphia, New Orleans, New York and Memphis, Tenn.

Local economists said the project could do for Cleveland what the Country Music Hall of Fame does for Nashville, Tenn., where about 350,000 people a year pay $6.50 to stroll past banjoes, spangled suits, recording equipment and other trade artifacts.

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