Cleveland’s cultural comeback

Katie Couric
Global Anchor

By Alexandra Zaslow

With a thriving downtown, a bustling restaurant scene and world-renowned museums, there’s no doubt Cleveland is experiencing a cultural renaissance.

After falling on hard times during the decline of the steel industry in the 1970s and 1980s, Cleveland is coming back in a big way. Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric paid a visit to the transforming city as part of her series “Cities Rising: Rebuilding America.”

Between 1980 and 2000, Cleveland lost 17 percent of its population, but more and more people have been moving there since. This has resulted in more jobs, bringing the unemployment rate down to 4.9 percent from 11 percent in 2010.

Hollywood has even sought out the city to film big budget movies with A-list actors, like Matthew McConaughey, who has been filming “White Boy Rick.”

“We went from zero movies to over 90 movies in the last eight years,” Ivan Schwarz, president of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, said. “We’ve created over 1,700 full-time equivalent jobs and we’ve had over $400 million of economic impact.”

Restaurateur Zack Bruell moved back to Cleveland after finding success on the West Coast. In 15 years, he’s opened eight of the city’s hottest restaurants, including Dynomite Burgers in the heart of Playhouse Square, the second largest performing arts center in the country.

While Playhouse Square has been around since the 1920s, it has received a makeover in recent years. In 2014, Cleveland’s theater district unveiled the biggest outdoor chandelier in the world, as well as digital kiosks providing information about the shows. The next year, the city welcomed 17.6 million tourists, up from 14 million in 2010.

Playhouse Square has helped launch Disney Musicals in Schools, a program that sends Disney-trained teachers to elementary schools to help put together a 30-minute musical. At the end of the semester, the students perform on a Playhouse Square stage.

“It’s about creating sustainable musical theater programs in underserved elementary schools, which currently have none,” Daniel Hahn, vice president of community engagement and entertainment at Playhouse Square, said.

Among the city’s other attractions are music and sports. Cleveland is home to the world’s only Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, among other pro teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cleveland Cavaliers see the importance of investing in the city’s youth as well and are refurbishing 40 basketball courts throughout Cleveland’s schools and recreation centers, helping to enhance the lives of 130,000 kids.

Len Komoroski, Cavaliers CEO, believes LeBron James was the inspiration for much of this initiative. He says LeBron is “a role model to other athletes by giving back to their community, reinvesting in the city and helping lift kids.”

Since LeBron’s return to his hometown in 2014, the streets of Cleveland have been pouring with pride. There was even more to be proud of in 2016 when the basketball star led the Cavaliers to an NBA national championship, ending the city’s 52-year championship drought.

“If the city is rising, and I think it is, he’s a big reason why,” Jim Donovan, WKYC anchor and sports director, said. “Everybody walked a little taller that next day and for really the whole summer.”