Cleveland State took a major step towards replacing the aging Wolstein Center on Thursday when Sasaki, a Boston-based architecture and planning firm assisting with the school’s master plan, presented its ten-year vision to the CSU Board of Trustees.
The $650 million proposal includes significant changes to all areas of campus, highlighted by razing the Vikings’ home arena of the last 32 seasons and replacing it with a smaller multipurpose facility on the south side of Payne Avenue, between E. 24th Street and Interstate 90.
Not much else is known about the planned new arena, particularly given the early stage of the process. Sasaki’s presentation does mention that the building will cover roughly 150,000 square feet and have 5,000-7,000 seats. That’s roughly half of the 315,000 square feet and 13,610 seats in the building originally known as the CSU Convocation Center, before being renamed for Bert and Iris Wolstein in 2005.
Both Cleveland State and Sasaki emphasized that there are no definite implementation timelines at this point. Dates, detailed budgets, and funding will be put into writing between now and the next Board of Trustees meeting on January 26, 2023, when the plan will likely be formally adopted. The first construction could then proceed by late 2023 or early 2024. CSU senior vice president of business affairs and chief financial officer David Jewell told Crain’s Cleveland Business that the projects would be financed one by one between now and 2033.
Sasaki’s presentation to the board is available on their project website.
The new arena would anchor what the firm is calling a Student Experience District, with a new fieldhouse and a tennis facility immediately to the west. Krenzler Field and the Vikings’ softball diamond, both of which remain under the vision, are another block down Payne from the tennis courts. Woodling Gymnasium, Busbey Natatorium, and the student recreation center are roughly one block south of the proposed arena site.
Following the demolition of the current venue, the footprint would be used for what is being called a “partnership district,” potentially including research and development facilities, a hotel, or retail space, though specifics have yet to be worked out. Another major project of the vision involves repurposing of Rhodes Tower into housing, as Cleveland State hopes to add 2,245 new beds while increasing enrollment by 4,500 students in the coming decade. Additional housing will be built elsewhere on campus, including in the Student Experience District on the site of the current Medical Mutual Tennis Pavilion.
The future of the Wolstein Center has been a topic of discussion since shortly after its 1991 opening. Built in the heady days following the 1986 Sweet Sixteen run of the Vikings’ men’s team and at a time when downtown Cleveland lacked a major arena, it was rendered somewhat redundant only three years later when the Cleveland Cavaliers moved back into the city and opened the arena now known as Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse a short walk away.
Though the Wolstein Center subsequently carved a decent niche, populating its schedule with second-tier concerts, indoor soccer, G League basketball, supporting events around the 2022 NBA All-Star Game, and even NCAA Tournament games (in 2000 and 2005), Cleveland State basketball has nearly always struggled to draw well or create any sort of atmosphere for home games since moving across campus from Woodling Gymnasium. In the mid-2000s, the school began curtaining off one end of the seating bowl, reducing the capacity for Vikings games to roughly 8,500.