Cleveland — from gritty to gleaming

Published 7:23 am Tuesday, June 18, 2013

When I realized I had a meeting in Cleveland, Ohio this week, my wife and I decided to take a few extra days and explore the city and surrounding area. It is a city neither of us has ever visited and we had heard some good things about it from several of our vendor friends that live in the city.

Frankly, I did not know too much about Cleveland before we arrived last week. Of course, I was familiar with the Cleveland Browns and their legendary running back, Jim Brown. I mostly follow National League baseball, so I could not really tell you much about the history of the Cleveland Indians.

Mostly, I thought about Cleveland as a rust belt city that was probably in decline. The city was the home of many iconic industrial companies in the late 1880s, at least partially because John D. Rockefeller also lived there.

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Driving in from the airport, we entered on one of the many bridges crossing the Cuyahoga River and noticed some of the existing industrial plants off in the distance. A dreary, rainy day just reinforced my stereotypical view of what Cleveland would be like.

From that point on, everything we saw and did was a pleasant surprise. Cleveland, once the fifth largest city in the United States, is now the 45th largest city. However, they have literally transformed their downtown area into a bustling area full of public parks. It was clean and felt safe. There were interesting restaurants everywhere and downtown seemed alive — full of people living in converted loft apartments.

The Quicken Arena, where we would later attend a Fleetwood Mac concert, sits right on the river, dramatically welcoming new visitors as they enter the city. Progressive Field, home of the Indians, sits right next to the arena, creating a huge entertainment area literally within walking distance of anywhere downtown. The Cleveland Browns stadium rests at the point where the river empties into Lake Erie.

Our hotel looked over a grassy mall area extending almost all the way to the lake. Part of a plan designed for the city in the 1800s, the mall was removed for the construction of a new convention center built completely underground. The area is so beautiful that it was several days before I was even aware that there was a million square foot building beneath the grass.

The world famous Cleveland Clinic is several miles from downtown. People from all over the world come to this top rated hospital. Its campus is like a university, with massive buildings on block after block and lush landscaping everywhere.

The Cleveland Art Museum is world class, as is its symphony. Art and culture abounds everywhere. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a must see for music lovers of any age.

While Cleveland faces the same challenges that all major cities have to overcome, it has clearly grown from a gritty, old industrial city into a gleaming, modern city that has its act together.

For a long weekend, you could not go wrong with visiting this city on the lake.

Dan Ponder can be reached at