Beyond Superman and “A Christmas Story”: Destination Cleveland sets goals to showcase more diverse attractions
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland celebrates Superman and Rockefeller, even Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”.
Why not Alonzo Wright, Robert Madison and Langston Hughes?
That’s a question asked by Michael Jeans, who sits on the board of directors of Destination Cleveland, the agency responsible for promoting the city’s top attractions.
It’s time to broaden the definition of “top attractions,” said Jeans, CEO of Growth Opportunity Partners, which advises and invests in small businesses in low-income communities.
Jeans and India Pierce Lee, senior vice president of the Cleveland Foundation, recently chaired a month-long study by Destination Cleveland that examines how the agency markets and promotes the city, with the goal of making the effort more diverse. and inclusive.
Their conclusion: some things need to change.
Among the recommendations: The community should develop a larger network of neighborhood experiences and attractions to draw visitors away from the main tourist areas of downtown, University Circle and the West Side, with the aim of highlight more African Americans, Latinos and immigrant stories.
“Our visitors deserve the full Cleveland experience,” Jeans said.
“I don’t regret the downtown investment or the downtown growth,” he added. But “Cleveland has the ability to have a bustling downtown, a bustling downtown and downtown, and an inner ring. “
Among the possibilities: expanding the reach of existing neighborhood attractions, including Karamu House, for example, or League Park, and making it a bigger draw, with additional experiences nearby, places to eat and shop.
Jeans would also like to see new experiences centered around Cleveland’s remarkable African-American history.
He cited the story of Alonzo Wright, who emigrated to South Cleveland in the early 1910s and became the city’s first African-American millionaire, the owner of many SOHIO gas stations, the Carnegie Hotel (au 68th Street and Carnegie Avenue), and Suite. “I guarantee that no one passing by that address hears this story,” Jeans said. “I didn’t hear from him until I was in his forties.”
Revolutionary African-American architect Robert Madison, poet Langston Hughes, actress and activist Ruby Dee and others also deserve their stories.
“While we highlighted Superman’s house and the Christmas Story House, I think we missed out on a few opportunities here,” he said.
Destination Cleveland kicked off this review of its work in 2020, following a nationwide race relations exploration following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The agency convened a task force on racial equity and inclusion, chaired by Jeans and Lee, to propose a series of actions.
The review looked at more than the diversity of faces featured in Destination Cleveland’s recent ad campaigns – but it looked at that as well.
“We need to make sure that our diversity is showcased in our advertising, but I think it goes much further than that,” said David Gilbert, President and CEO of Destination Cleveland. “It’s not just about advertising, it’s about the stories we tell.
He added: “Obviously our diversity is a big part of who we are.” And the city’s tourist attractions and experiences should reflect that.
Among the recommendations of the working group:
* Evolve the Destination Cleveland brand to attract a more diverse visitor base.
* Pursue meetings and conventions that draw diverse communities to Cleveland.
* Connect Cleveland black history and immigrant stories to the Cleveland brand.
* Ensure that the narrative of the destination reflects the diversity of the city.
Already, part of this is happening. Destination Cleveland recently began highlighting the stories of African-American artists in Cleveland, sharing their work through YouTube and other channels.
Gilbert suggested that Atlanta is a city that does a good job of showcasing a diversity of stories via its Black Travel Guide, which highlights the city’s long civil rights heritage, suggesting plenty of places to visit, including places to visit. museums, churches, neighborhoods and colleges.
Memphis is another city that “tells its story in a very diverse way,” according to Jeans, with music, civil rights attractions and food. “You don’t have to go through a lot of corners to find it,” he said.
Cleveland also has many unique stories to tell – the city was a major stop on the Underground Railroad, home to the country’s oldest African-American theater company (Karamu), elected first black mayor of a major American city (Carl Stokes) and more.
“We have the story,” Gilbert said. “But we don’t have the programs and the companies that go with it as much as we should.”
Michael Elliott, director of economic development for Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, said not all Cleveland neighborhoods are ready to offer a welcome mat to visitors. But some are, or could be, with some investment.
Earlier this year, Neighborhood Progress hosted a program called Eat & Explore CLE, designed to highlight local restaurants and retailers affected by the pandemic. This event, Elliott said, highlighted many strengths of the neighborhood, some of which may be ready for a larger audience.
He cited League Park, the historic baseball stadium in the Hough district, as an example of an attraction that could be bolstered by additional investment.
“If I go more than 2 miles from the city center, I don’t want to feel like I have to go back downtown to find something to eat,” he said. “How do we create these areas so that they are destinations, so that people stay and support the neighborhood? “
He added: “It will not happen overnight. In Cleveland, we want these quick fixes. It took downtown at least a decade to get to where it is now.
Gilbert said embracing and investing in a more diverse tourism economy is more than a good thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.
“Our number one goal is always to increase the number of people who visit here,” he said. “Our diversity is a very strong part of who we are. “
Lee, of the Cleveland Foundation, said Destination Cleveland’s commitment is more than lip service. “It’s intentional. It’s real.”
An increase in the number of visitors, she said, leads to more jobs, more investment, a growing population and more. “It costs us money when we don’t embrace diversity,” she said.
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