Just in time for spring, the Hilton Downtown Cleveland has unveiled its much-ballyhooed, taxpayer-funded, $220 million indoor entertainment complex —"The Slag Heap," in cynical parlance.
At a star-studded opening gala Tuesday night, county executive Joe Roman and Hilton Worldwide CEO Christopher J. Nassetta rhapsodized about the "state of the art" facilities, which include a skate park, a 12-screen Regal Cinemas, a "boutique-y" concert hall, an expanded gymnasium with basketball courts, an Olympic-sized pool and a rowing facility for the Foundry's winter training programs.
"What's so unique about it is how vertical it is," said Roman. "It's not just vertical; it's tall vertical too. This is the way, right here, that public-private partnerships can work. This was an example of that."
Hilton spokesperson Linda Tipsarevic boasted to The Press last week that even with the late construction of the rowing facilities, "only 12 additional rooms" were removed from the hotel's latest floor plan. That brings the total number of available rooms at the downtown Hilton to 29. That number includes, of course, the six suites that David Gilbert was revealed to have been booking every night since 2017 in order to pad the occupancy numbers. Even after the practice was identified by Crain's reporting intern George Rodrigue, Gilbert continued the nightly ritual.
"This is Cleveland," he said at the time.
The taxpayer-funded Hilton Cleveland Downtown once housed 600 rooms, but famously was only ever fully occupied on three occasions, twice during the 2016 RNC, and then once later for Michael Stanley's public funeral services.
In 2018, 140 rooms were excised when the city of Cleveland and REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) built a multi-story rock gym inside the hotel. Ever since then, bits and pieces of the building have exchanged hands irregularly, and more and more rooms have been taken offline.
The Slag Heap was officially announced last year. To fund the project, voters passed the infamous 5-year "Instagram shots of the Terminal Tower" tax. "People really love taking pictures of that building for some reason," said Mayor Frank Jackson at the time of the tax's passage. "I understand it's a process, and we figured we'd make some money off it. It's a legacy."
Hilton stopped short of saying that they could guarantee 100-percent occupancy and as of press time, the 29 rooms were still not filled.
Most of the celebrities who attended the shindig — Boobie Gibson, Drew Carey, special guest Shania Twain —were rumored to have spent the night at the Marriott across the street.
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