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Game Changers: A new start at the old I-X Center

It's been a year since a new company took over the space, so what's changed? And what's stayed the same?

CLEVELAND — Three months ago, life returned to the I-X Center after being shuttered due to the COVID pandemic since September 2020. 

The Christmas Connection marked not only the first show since that time -- it also marked the first show under new ownership and management.

Industrial Realty Group, or IRG, took over the I-X Center's lease from Park Corporation, which had operated the space since 1985.

RELATED: GUIDE | Cleveland Auto Show returns to I-X Center: What to expect at the 2022 event

"It was at that moment that we realized how important this convention center was to the community," Michelle Kiernan, VP/Asset Development Manager for Industrial Realty Group said.

So why take over that lease?

"We've really made a name for ourselves for adaptive reuse of existing facilities. So while we've never operated at a convention center before, this type of real estate acquisition is very much right up our alley. It's exciting to be a part of being the next chapter," Kiernan said.

It is a new start in a year marking a special anniversary for the well-known structure.

"80 years of history in this space," said Claire Anter, Director of Sales and Marketing for Spectra. "So dating back to World War II, we were building parts for the B-29 Bombers. We moved into the Korean and then the Vietnam War. And now we're starting a new chapter."

And with what they believe are the right changes, IRG plans to steer the I-X Center into a brand new era. It all starts this spring with a facelift that's expected to be finished by October.

As 3News first told you in January, the famous Ferris wheel will be taken down to make way for two functioning exhibit halls that could be operational at the same time.

RELATED: Cleveland's I-X Center to remove iconic Ferris wheel

They also plan to rightsize the building facing east, and about a million of the 2.2 million square feet of the building will be leased out for industrial or warehouse space. The plan also includes making use of the property's 159 acres -- much of which is outside.

"We also have grassy areas," Anter said. "We have the overhang, food trucks can be out there. People can be throw cornhole bags and just really have a fun festival. And we are looking at shows, come in and and bring that type of event here to Cleveland."

IRG is not operating the shows. It has brought in a professional management company called Spectra for that role.

But fans will be disappointed to learn the favorite I-X Indoor Amusement Park will not be returning this year.

"It's been a fan-favorite for decades," Anter said. "Doesn't mean that it won't come back in the future. We just don't have a home this year."

But other fan-favorite events will be returning to the I-X Center.

"You'll continue to see a lot of your favorites, the home and garden, the bridal, RV, boat and auto shows," Kiernan said.

The next wave of events is already embracing the future, too.

"We are, right now, going to contract with a cannabis expo," Anter said. "We are also going to contract with the Cleveland gaming classic, which would be exciting to bring gamers into the building."

IRG and Spectra officials are hoping it is a game changer for the surrounding area and Northeast Ohio as a whole.

"Bringing more people to the site, I think bringing more jobs to this facility, I think is exciting and is a win for Cleveland," Kiernan said. "And I think it's important for Clevelanders to know that we are open for business. We plan on staying here for a long time."

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