Members of Canton, Ohio, Local 540 recently completed work on a new outdoor venue downtown that was specially built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Football League. It’s the latest of several major projects that are likely to bring steady work for the local and its members as the city continues to capitalize on its role as the birthplace of the league and home of its Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Football is huge in northeast Ohio,” said Local 540 Business Manager Aaron Brown. “And the Hall is an experience for fans of football everywhere, at all levels.”
Built in Canton’s Arts District, the $12.3 million stadium-shaped and multi-purpose Centennial Plaza is designed to be a place where visitors to the Hall of Fame can go and enjoy themselves, featuring a pavilion, a stage with a large LED screen, a café, and a children’s area, plus an event lawn big enough to hold 5,000 people.
But the plaza’s elaborate electrical design, along with its programmable theatrical lighting, sound system, and setups for kiosks to feature historical interactive displays, presented plenty of opportunities for Local 540’s members to skillfully hide electrical conduits and related equipment and to unobtrusively attach lights to the pavilion’s 65-foot-tall spires.
“It was a challenge with the steel structures and the way the plaza sits,” Brown said.
Not entirely coincidentally, Centennial Plaza was built just a few blocks away from the former site of a car dealership owned by Ralph Hay, who also was the owner of the early 20th-century Canton Bulldogs football team. There, Hay and the owners of several other teams convened on September 19, 1920, to form what would eventually become the NFL.
About 40 years later, Canton’s civic and business leaders successfully petitioned the NFL to establish the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their city to honor the game’s greatest contributors, and they quickly raised the funds to support the hall’s construction.
It opened in 1963 next to the site of the former League Field, where the Bulldogs played until they were disbanded in 1927. Toward the end of the Great Depression, League Field was replaced by Fawcett Field; in the years since, that stadium has continuously hosted numerous high school and college football games, as well as the annual Hall of Fame Game.
In 2015, Local 540 members worked on renovations of that venue, which is now called the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. “We’ve got a great relationship with the city and with the Hall of Fame,” Brown said.
The Hall is a 10-minute drive from downtown, and local leaders are constantly looking at creating connections between it and downtown Canton.
Centennial Plaza is one such project. Another was the recent $21 million renovation of the McKinley Grand, a 165-room downtown hotel that had seen better days. This modernized destination, rebranded as a DoubleTree by Hilton, is now owned by the Hall of Fame.
“We had eight to 12 members working on the hotel, and another eight to 10 on the plaza,” Brown said noting the team consisted of a diverse mix of journeyman wiremen and apprentices working for Hilscher-Clarke Electric, the local’s largest contractor. “They’re very good to work with.”
The hotel and the plaza were ready to commemorate the NFL’s 100th anniversary last September, although social distancing and other restrictions forced by the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to any crowded or lavish gatherings. However, there was still a small ceremony at the plaza during halftime of the Cleveland Browns-Cincinnati Bengals game on Sept. 17, where the facility’s 11 pylons — bearing more than 25,000 names of NFL players from the league’s first 100 years — were officially dedicated.
The stadium renovation, hotel revamp and plaza construction were all completed under project labor agreements negotiated one at a time between the city of Canton, Hall of Fame village and the building trades, guaranteeing that all workers on those jobs received the prevailing wage for their work.
“Here locally within the building trades, we’ve worked so well together,” Brown said. “As an organization, we’ve built great relationships, but it also helps having labor on the city council.” Local 540 member Kevin Hall has been a council member since 2017, while council president William Sherer is the business manager of Ironworkers Local 550.
“The really neat thing was that the building trades, city of Canton and Hall of Fame were all on board with the PLA,” Brown said. “We got everybody at the table.”
Potentially providing even more work for Local 540 members down the road is the Hall of Fame Village’s planned Constellation Center for Excellence, a 75,000-square-foot retail, research and office building featuring a mesh video wall next to the stadium, plus a brand new seven-story hotel, a large football-themed water park, an 85,000-square foot indoor performance center and a retail promenade.
“The Centennial plaza and the downtown Hotel is just the beginning,” Brown said. “The entire area is growing and building out. The exciting part is still to come.”
One of the most exciting additions to the Hall of Fame Village on the drawing board is Legends Landing, a 143-room retirement and assisted-living community for Hall of Famers, plus other former NFL players, coaches and staffers that’s unique in the world of professional sports.
“As a local, we’re always looking out for our members and retirees,” Brown said. “It’s good to see the same with the NFL and Legends Landing.”
For now, Local 540 is looking with pride at what they’ve accomplished with Centennial Plaza. “It’s a sight to see,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a major attraction.”
“I’m proud of the leaders of Local 540,” said Fourth District International Vice President Gina Cooper. “They worked hard to ensure IBEW members were part of this historic project.”