A Catalyst for the "Comeback City"
In the 1970s, Cleveland's status was grim. The city was losing large swaths of its population, defaulting on its loans, planning on converting Playhouse Square to a parking lot, and becoming known as "Bomb City USA" due to mob violence. The Cuyahoga River was dying, and manufacturing in the city was on the decline. The city's National Basketball Association franchise, the Cleveland Cavaliers, was established at the beginning of this tumultuous decade in 1970. After only four years, the Cavaliers, like many downtown Cleveland businesses, moved out of the city and into the suburbs. Richfield, Ohio, was the new hometown of the Cavaliers and the Richfield Coliseum was their arena. Although the Coliseum featured state-of-the-art architecture at the time of its opening, Richfield never developed the way that Cavaliers' owner Nick Mileti hoped. Mileti imagined Richfield developing rapidly with new roads, businesses, and sports facilities to create "a megalopolis stretching from Cleveland to Akron." Due to the creation of the 50-square-mile Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in 1974, this never materialized and Richfield remained an isolated and rural town. Gordon Gund became the principal owner of the Cavaliers in 1983. The Richfield experiment had failed. The city of Cleveland was floundering. Gund then began searching for a new home for the Cavaliers in downtown Cleveland.
To assist in the revitalization of the city, Cleveland needed something more significant than just a sports arena with four walls and a roof. To accomplish this, the city used the concept of an urban entertainment district, or UED, in the creation of Gund Arena. In 1990, the Gateway Economic Development Corporation was formed to create a stadium for the Cavaliers and also a complete financially productive district for Cleveland. Despite this plan, this vast project ignited controversy. In the 1980s, a plan for a domed downtown Cleveland sports complex failed to generate sufficient public and political support. In 1984, the $150 million bond issue to fund the domed stadium was rejected by a vote of 277,845 to 147,221. With the Gateway plan in mind, all that remained was to generate public support for the public funding portion of the project. This "sin tax" on liquor and cigarettes passed by a narrow margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. With public funding secured, the path was cleared for the Gateway Project to begin and for the Cavaliers to build a new home.
In 1994, Gund Arena opened. What was created was a state-of-the-art sports facility that was, "well integrated into the existing fabric of downtown." At the premiere of the venue, it was revealed that the arena featured a curved roof, glass walls, and large arcades throughout the stadium. The interior of the complex was visible from the outside and featured, "… lobbies, a restaurant and sports bar, box offices, stairways and escalators…" Architects made many attempts to make the stadium seem open and living in accordance with the rest of downtown Cleveland. Team and public expectations for stadiums and arenas never remain unchanged. By the 2010s, Gund Arena, by then known as Quicken Loans Arena following its purchase by Dan Gilbert, was no longer state-of-the-art in comparison to some cities' newer venues. The impetus for renovation drew strength from the increasing popularity of the venue. Quicken Loans Arena hosted the 2016 Republican Convention and was also one of six finalists to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention. That same year, the Cavaliers won the NBA championship.
In 2018-2019, the arena underwent a massive renovation. The changes included an increase in square footage, a new glass entryway to emphasize a connection to downtown Cleveland, new wireless access points, suites, membership spaces, and an additional 731 television monitors. As well as these changes, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse also adopted inclusivity measures previously in 2017. After a child with non-verbal autism was turned away by security staff, Cavaliers' management became the first sensory inclusive arena in American professional sports. Upon entry, spectators have the option to retrieve a sensory bag that features, "sound-bending headphones, fidget toys, weighted lap pads, and a feelings thermometer." Included in this modest renovation was a safe space meant to relax fans called a sensory room. Sporting arenas such as Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse get loud in a sports city like Cleveland, Ohio and these accommodations allowed more fans to participate. Being on the cutting edge of technological renovations has been a staple of this facility.
With the massive renovations that lasted from 2018-2019, the Cavaliers also signed a lease to occupy Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse until 2034. At the time that this lease expires, this arena will have been home to the Cavaliers for 40 years after their move in 1994. Recently in 2022, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse hosted the National Basketball Association's All-Star Weekend event. Due to continuous innovation of the complex, it was able to host these events in both 1997 and 2022 for the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the NBA. Despite controversy regarding funding for the project, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse has proven to be an unwavering symbol of Cleveland.