#entertainment | Arts, entertainment, hospitality could fuel Cleveland’s post-pandemic rebound if they get more help now, report says


CLEVELAND, Ohio — If elected officials truly care about the city’s economic future, they should do even more than they already have to shore up restaurants, music clubs and cultural institutions hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, a new report suggests.

That’s because if they survive, the businesses and nonprofit activities that make cities worth visiting and worth living in could power a post-pandemic recovery that will make Cleveland more economically competitive in the future, the report says.

But the online report, published by Rust Belt Analytica LLC and the Urban Theory and Analytics Program at Cleveland State University, documents what it describes as “unmatched’ job losses caused by the pandemic, which the leisure and hospitality sector must overcome first.

Related coverage: Cuyahoga County arts advocates propose broader tax on tobacco products to boost arts and culture revenue

The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com were given an advance look at the findings by Richey Piiparinen, who co-authored the report with Josh Valdez and Jim Russell of Rust Belt Analytica.

“If we don’t protect our cultural assets, we drop the ball; it’s a missed layup,’’ said Piiparinen, director of the urban theory and analytics program.

Economic damage

Piiparinen and his colleagues report that employment in the sector plummeted by 55,700 jobs in April in comparison to a year earlier, far more than the year-over-year loss of 4,300 jobs in August 2009 during the Great Recession, the second biggest drop since 1990.

By September, employment in leisure and hospitality recovered, somewhat, posting a year-over-year loss of 28,300 jobs, according to the report.

A graph prepared for a new report on why arts, entertainment and hospitality need more economic support during the pandemic shows how the sector accounted for 28.6 percent of year-over-year job losses in Cleveland in 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic.Courtesy Cleveland State University, Rust Belt Analytica

But the sector has taken a disproportionate hit. As of September, total employment in the city had fallen 9 percent from 1,080,000 to 981,000 jobs in comparison to a year earlier, Piiparinen said.

Jobs in leisure and hospitality declined by three times that rate, from 106,100 to 77,800, over same period, he said.

Data in the report show that consumer spending in arts, entertainment and recreation in Cleveland fell 59 percent between January and September.

Among the top 53 cities in the U.S. Cleveland suffered the second biggest drop in spending on restaurants and hotels during the same period, placing it behind Washington, D.C., and ahead of Nashville, with a decline of 58 percent.

The data show that the pandemic threatens the survival of some of the businesses and cultural institutions that give Cleveland its unique identity, Piiparinen said.

Examples in the report include the closure in October of Sokolowski’s University Inn in Tremont, which served up Polish-style comfort food including sausages, pierogis, stuffed cabbage, and Lake Erie perch.

The case for aid

If properly nurtured, the city’s creative, culinary, entertainment and hospitality sectors could drive a powerful recovery because, as the report argues, the pandemic has hastened a nationwide transition to telecommuting for work in many fields.

The shift, which the report calls the “death of distance,’’ means that high-tech and knowledge-based workers will be freer to move to cities that offer the best combination of low cost of living and high quality of life, the report said.

Prior to the pandemic, high-cost cities such as New York, San Francisco and Austin were already losing their gloss, creating an opening for affordable, mid-continent cities such as Cleveland. The rise of telecommuting has enhanced that opportunity.

“There’s a draw of place that can really lift Cleveland up in this environment, where you can leave San Francisco and New York and come here and get the same menu of amenities but a higher quality of life,” Piiparinen said.

Already, the report states, there’s evidence that footloose younger workers are flocking to Cleveland. They’re fueling a boom in apartment construction that has remained strong during the pandemic, despite evidence of falling occupancy rates in areas including downtown.

Geography of work is changing

The number of 25 to 34-year-olds with a college degree or higher in the city has reached a historical high of 29.5 percent, even while Cleveland’s overall population has declined. But that’s only half of the current percentage in Pittsburgh, Piiparinen said, indicating there’s room for growth here in the number of young, highly educated newcomers.

Report makes case for more support in Cleveland for entertainment, hospitality, during pandemic

A graph depicts the changing number of Cleveland residents aged 25-34 between 2006 and 2019, and the rising percentage of that group with a bachelor’s degree or higher, now almost 30 percent.Courtesy Cleveland State University, Rust Belt Analytica

But Cleveland won’t be able to capitalize on the emerging new geography of work unless it preserves the unique qualities that make it an attractive place to live, he said. And that means staving off a potential influx of generic national chains that could replace local retailers and restaurants forced to close during the pandemic.

“Ultimately, the closing of our neighborhood anchors means a sanitization of the city’s character,’’ the report states.

That’s why it’s crucial to support small businesses that give Cleveland its character.

“You can’t see it as saving a music venue here and a restaurant or a theater there,’’ Piiparinen said. “It’s a strategy that’s part of a bigger vision of where the global economy is headed.”

The record on aid

Local and state officials have already allocated emergency aid to Cuyahoga County’s cultural sector using money from the federal CARES Act, short for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Last month, the county directed $4 million in CARES money to help cultural nonprofits, individual artists and for-profit concert bars and music clubs.

And on Thursday, the Ohio Arts Council awarded $20 million in CARES Act money to cultural nonprofits statewide, a move approved by Gov. Mike DeWine. Of the total, nearly $5.8 million went to 69 organizations in Cuyahoga County.

Yet the new report suggests that even more help is needed during what promises to be a tough winter.

The report was independently produced and not coordinated with a proposal to raise more local public money for the arts in Cuyahoga County by replacing the current 30-cent-a-pack excise tax on cigarettes with a new, 8 percent tax on the wholesale price of all tobacco products.

Early responses to study

But early reactions to the study suggest it could be cited by advocates to bolster support for initiatives including the proposed new tobacco tax.

“If you don’t have the art and culture and quality of life, you’re just like dozens of other cities in the center of the country,’’ said Fred Bidwell, chairman of the nonprofit Arts and Culture Action Committee, which supports the tobacco tax proposal.

David Gilbert, president and CEO of Destination Cleveland, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, who, along with Bidwell, read the new report, described travel and tourism as the “product” his organization sells, and asked: “How does our product survive through COVID?’’

Though he worries about the survival of restaurants and small retailers, Gilbert said the pandemic presents Cleveland with an opportunity.

“We have a chance here to come out of this faster than our peers, and we have to be ready to do that,’’ he said.



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