Basketball at Public Auditorium? Cleveland Charge plans move to city-owned landmark (2024)

CLEVELAND — Since 1922, Public Auditorium has hosted celebrities, political candidates, circus performers, and professional athletes.

Now, the city-owned landmark will become the home of the Cleveland Charge, the minor-league NBA team that feeds the Cleveland Cavaliers. The team announced Tuesday that it expects to move to Public Auditorium in the fall, ending a three-season run at the Wolstein Center.

The plan, approved by Cleveland City Council late Monday night, offers the Charge a bigger playground closer to the center of downtown. And the deal promises more life – and income – for a century-old building that only hosts a few dozen events each year.

“We look at it as an opportunity to highlight the building,” said Bonnie Teeuwen, the city’s chief operating officer. “There’s a lot of people who have never been in this building before. And once they come in here and they look around … they say ‘wow.’ And then they start thinking, ‘What event can I have here?’”

Public Auditorium was Cleveland’s original convention center – and the largest facility of its kind when it opened 102 years ago. It includes a 10,000-seat auditorium; the recently restored Music Hall, with 2,800 seats; and a roughly 600-seat Little Theater.

Today, it’s used for conferences, weddings and, every few years, the induction ceremony for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And, on Tuesday nights, free pickleball games.

The Charge will play in that vast auditorium, where they’ll set up a basketball court and hoops at the northern end of the floor. There’s enough room to turn the southern end of that floor into a space for fan activities – a regular feature at G League games.

Rocco Maragas, the team’s chief operating officer, said the move will let the Charge give fans more of what they want. More courtside seating. More food and drink choices. Places for kids to play. Nooks for business meetings and corporate events.

“It’s the opportunity for us to really expand and grow,” he said. “And on top of that, it keeps us downtown, which is very important to our organization.”

'It's Cleveland, through and through'

The Charge is part of billionaire Dan Gilbert’s Rock Entertainment Group, which also includes the Cavs, the Cleveland Monsters and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

On Monday, City Council approved the framework for a six-year lease agreement between the city and the Charge.

As part of that deal, the team will spend $3 million on upgrades to the building, including locker rooms. The city will reimburse the Charge for up to $1 million of that spending through rent credits and discounted labor.

“The advantage to the city is there’s no up-front cash that we have to provide for the improvements,” Teeuwen said Tuesday.

And, she added, “the $3 million improvement will stay, obviously, with the building after the fact. So we’re very pleased with the agreement that we have.”

The Charge will play 24 games at Public Auditorium during the 2024-2025 season, Maragas said. Last season, the typical game drew 3,500 people. With a growing fan base and a new venue, he hopes the team will reach an average attendance of 4,000 this year.

“The building itself is in really great shape,” he said. “It’s beautiful. It’s that gilded-age architecture that’s really gorgeous. It’s Cleveland, through and through. … We just need to sort of have it prepped and massage a few things to make sure that it’s ready to go.”

Basketball at Public Auditorium? Cleveland Charge plans move to city-owned landmark (2)

Anthony Garcia/News 5

'The future of the Wolstein Center'

The Charge has been playing at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University since 2021. But the future of that venue is uncertain. CSU’s long-term master plan calls for demolishing the arena and redeveloping the site at Prospect Avenue and East 18th Street.

Basketball at Public Auditorium? Cleveland Charge plans move to city-owned landmark (3)

Sasaki; Cleveland State University

That master plan, released in late 2022, proposes a much smaller arena on Payne Avenue at the northern edge of the university’s campus. As CSU grapples with a looming deficit, falling enrollment and rising costs, it’s not clear where those grand plans stand.

Basketball at Public Auditorium? Cleveland Charge plans move to city-owned landmark (4)

Sasaki; Cleveland State University

By email Tuesday, a university spokeswoman stressed that “there are no immediate plans to demolish the Wolstein Center.” Despite what’s in the master plan, she added, “no final decisions about the future of the Wolstein Center have been made.”

The Charge notified CSU about the team’s moving plans on May 31st.

“We are thankful for our successful three-year partnership with the Charge and wish them the best,” Reena Arora-Sànchez, the university spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

Maragas said the Cavs weren’t under any pressure to move.

“Wolstein was a great home for us,” he said. “We’re grateful. It was a phenomenal partnership with CSU. … Public Auditorium just gives us the opportunity to have a little bit of a larger landscape on the floor area. And really expand and grow the experience.”

Basketball at Public Auditorium? Cleveland Charge plans move to city-owned landmark (5)

Anthony Garcia/News 5

'It should be used every day'

Teeuwen said city officials hope the deal with the Charge will bring other potential tenants to the Public Auditorium. In the past, a soccer team looked at playing there. But that deal didn’t work out – because the building didn’t have locker rooms.

It’s too early to say whether other Wolstein Center events, from shows to sports, will make the same move about 1.2 miles northwest to Lakeside Avenue.

“I’m sure the Wolstein Center is going to be operational for the next few years, so we don’t want to take anything away from them,” Teeuwen said of the 15,000-seat arena. “But we’d be happy to have those discussions.”

Public Auditorium is a money-loser for the city today. That’s not unusual for large convention-style facilities.

But Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration hopes to eventually push it into the black at a time when the city is trying to do more with its underused real estate.

“We think it should be used every day,” Teeuwen said.

“We’re going to look at whatever we can do to maximize the use,” she added, “so that it’s not a negative asset for us. … Just having the Charge here is 25 more days that somebody’s going to be in this building. It gives us an opportunity to be on the positive.”

Copyright 2024 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Basketball at Public Auditorium? Cleveland Charge plans move to city-owned landmark (2024)


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