Filed Under Sports

Progressive Field

The Cleveland Indians Find a Home of Their Own

Art Modell. The very mention of his name in Cleveland still stirs up vitriol. In 1963 he angered many by firing legendary Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown, only two years after Art assumed principal ownership of the team. Most was forgiven in 1964 when the Browns won the NFL championship; but for decades after, Art was regularly criticized for meddling in on-field affairs. More bridges were burned in 1986 when the Ohio Supreme Court declared that Modell had enriched himself unfairly through the buying, operating and selling of Stadium Corporation, a company he founded to manage Municipal Stadium. Acrimony reached the stratosphere in 1995 when Art announced that he was moving the Browns to Baltimore.

The loss of the Browns — a blow from which many Cleveland sports fans have not fully recovered (even though the team name, colors, and traditions were salvaged when the NFL awarded Cleveland an expansion team in 1999) — is inseparable from the history of Jacobs Field, as the new stadium was known before Progressive Insurance acquired naming rights. That history is filled with perennial disappointments on the playing field for the Browns and Cleveland's professional baseball team, the Indians.

From the beginning of the 20th century, Cleveland Indians home games were played at League Park (also known as Dunn Field) at Lexington Avenue and East 66th Street. Beginning in 1932, some Indians games were staged in the newly built Cleveland Municipal Stadium on the city's lakefront. After 1947, the Indians used Municipal Stadium exclusively. Built as a multipurpose facility, Municipal Stadium began hosting football in 1946 — the year the Cleveland Browns came into being as part of the All-America Conference (the team joined the National Football League in 1950). By the early 1970s, the forty-year-old stadium was aging and needed major repairs, which the financially strapped City of Cleveland could not afford. In 1973, Art Modell agreed to lease the stadium and take responsibility for its upkeep. Over the years his Stadium Corporation made much more money from the stadium than it paid the city in rent, in part because Modell refused to share with the Indians any of the revenues from the 108 loges he added in the mid-1970s.

By the early 1980s, plans surfaced for a domed stadium that might house both the Indians and the NBA Cavaliers. At the same time, Cleveland State University was planning a convocation center for its basketball team, concerts, and university events. At Governor Richard Celeste's urging, the university agreed to study the feasibility of building a larger domed stadium that would serve CSU’s needs as well as those of Cleveland’s pro baseball and basketball teams. Researchers subsequently concluded that such a combination facility would lose money unless the Indians dramatically improved their dismal attendance. Advocates claimed a domed stadium would stimulate downtown revitalization and boost civic pride. Skeptics noted that the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, and the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans had fallen short of expectations and required constant public subsidies to break even. Many believed that the Indians didn't deserve a new home and that any money spent on the franchise should be used to field a team worthy of attracting larger crowds. Unsurprisingly, voters refused to foot the bill—rejecting a property tax issue to fund the dome in May 1984.

The Indians had threatened to leave Cleveland before, in 1958 and 1964, prompting emergency campaigns to "save the Indians." And when owner F.J. “Steve” O'Neill died in 1983, the Cleveland Indians’ tenancy was once again under threat. Salvation came in the form of sibling developers Richard and David Jacobs, who acquired the team in 1986. The newly formed Greater Cleveland Domed Stadium Corporation began assembling land around the former site of the old Central Market, just south of Prospect Avenue at East 9th Street and Carnegie Avenue. But even though the Jacobs family pumped new life into the Indians franchise, Art Modell continued to demand a new 20-year lease on Municipal Stadium in return for his agreement to make much-needed improvements. Among the most serious problems were structural concerns, antiquated restrooms, a paucity of concession stands and poor field drainage. The situation was chaotic: Art was adamant. CSU was going forward with its convocation center. And now the Domed Stadium group was proposing two stadia: an open-air baseball field and an adjacent arena to lure the Cavaliers back from suburban Richfield.

In May 1990, voters approved a 15-year "sin tax" on sales of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes to help fund what was now being called the Gateway Sports and Entertainment Complex. Combined with Jacobs money, the new Jacobs Field was built in what has sometimes been called the "retro-modern ballpark" style first used a few years before for Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Like Oriole Park, Jacobs Field aimed not only to revive a city's fan base, it also sought to stimulate downtown development and build upon Cleveland's "comeback" under George Voinovich, Cleveland's counterpart to "messiah mayor" William Donald Schafer of Baltimore.

On April 4, 1994, President Bill Clinton threw the ceremonial first pitch at the new Jacobs Field. Roughly 18 months later, the Indians appeared in their first World Series since being swept by the New York Giants in 1954 (the Tribe lost the ’95 Series to Atlanta in six games). Jacobs Field enjoyed a record 455 consecutive sold-out home games between 1995 and 2001. That same period marked the demise and rebirth of the Cleveland Browns. Art Modell, who had steadfastly refused to participate in the effort to build the Gateway complex, incurred millions of dollars in revenue losses when the Indians departed for Jacobs Field. Already burdened with excessive debt, Art turned his back on the crumbling Municipal Stadium and reestablished the Browns as the Baltimore Ravens in 1996.

Audio

81 Times a Year Cleveland Indians public relations director Bob DiBiasio discusses how Cleveland Municipal Stadium, while its capacity was great, did not have the amenities to entertain fans 81 times a year, which is much harder than the eight times the Browns played at home each year. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
The Fan Is More Sophisticated Now Bob DiBiasio observes that Cleveland fans visited more modern stadiums in other stadiums and came back dissatisfied with the aging Municipal Stadium. This was part of the reason the Indians wanted a new facility. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
It Belonged on That Corner Bob DiBiasio talks about how Jacobs Field had to be shoehorned into a rather confined downtown site, but its location was what made it special. Even its architecture purposefully evokes the exposed steelwork of the city's bridges over the Cuyahoga River. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
A Team That Mashed Everybody Bob DiBiasio explains the appeal of Jacobs Field and the Indians in the mid-1990s: the team was excellent, it was in a brand-new stadium, the economy was strong, downtown was revitalizing, and then the Browns left. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Progressive Field, 2008 Progressive Field is the centerpiece of downtown Cleveland's Gateway district and is one of the first retro-modern ballparks that opened in the 1990s. Source: Wikimedia Commons Date: 2008
Cleveland Indians at Municipal Stadium, ca. 1930s The 80,000-seat Municipal Stadium supported both baseball and football before the Indians departed to Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) in 1994. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: Ca. 1930s
Art Modell with Mayor Ralph Perk, 1975 Art Modell took over management of the aging Municipal Stadium in in the early 1970s, seemingly offering the city government a great savings but also robbing it of significant revenues. Modell helped drive the Indians away from Municipal Stadium by refusing to give the team any of the proceeds from the deluxe loges he built in the old stadium in the 1970s. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Cleveland Press Date: August 21, 1975
Domed Stadium Cartoon, 1985 For a time, Cleveland State University figured prominently in discussions about the future home of Cleveland's sports teams. CSU planned to build a convocation center to draw a variety of events downtown in addition to serving as home of the university's Vikings basketball team. The state governor asked CSU to study a combined facility that could draw in professional teams. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Ray Osrin Date: January 14, 1985
Rendering of Gund Arena and Jacobs Field, 1992 Named for the George Gund Foundation, Gund Arena was another important piece of the Gateway Sports and Entertainment Complex. Home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, it is now called Quicken Loans Arena or simply "The Q." Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1992
Cleveland Municipal Stadium, 1993 The 80,000-seat Municipal Stadium could feel very empty, even in a good baseball season. This picture from 1993 actually reflects the best--and last--season for Indians attendance at the old stadium after the brief spike in 1948-49. Indians attendance, which hit its highest average attendance--nearly 34,000-- in its World Series championship year of 1948, plummeted to less than 7,000 per game on average by 1963. It never topped 20,000 again until 1993. The next year the Indians moved to Jacobs Field, where average game attendance soared above 40,000 for several years. Source: Wikimedia Commons Date: 1993
Opening Day at Jacobs Field, 1994 President Bill Clinton threw the opening pitch before the first Indians game at Jacobs Field on April 4, 1994. Jacobs Field drew unprecedented attendance to Indians games. In fact, the Indians sold out 455 straight games. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: SkyView Aerial Photography, Inc. Date: April 4, 1994
Cleveland Municipal Stadium and Skyline, 1930s This postcard view shows the relationship of the old Municipal Stadium to downtown. Like Browns Stadium, which now occupies the same site, Municipal Stadium's lakefront location was separated from the city's center by a major railroad corridor and thus somewhat divorced from the main axis of downtown activity between Public Square and Playhouse Square. Only in the 1980s-90s, with the redevelopment of the Warehouse District, did the stadium begin to connect somewhat better with downtown. Source: J. Mark Souther Postcard Collection Date: Ca. 1930s
Jacobs Field with Browns Stadium in Distance, 1999 It is difficult to locate large stadiums in the heart of downtown areas, so they usually arise on the fringes. Jacobs Field, now Progressive Field, is similarly sited on the edge of downtown, but planners envisioned the larger Gateway district as encompassing nearby restaurants and bars in the vicinity of Prospect, Huron, East 4th, and East 9th, all easily walkable from the stadium. Source: Wikimedia Commons Date: 1999

Location

2401 Ontario St., Cleveland, OH 44115

Metadata

“Progressive Field,” Cleveland Historical, accessed December 2, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/703.