Rock's hall of fame still on shaky ground


As the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame plans its eighth induction dinner, there is still no building to put inductees in. Nevertheless, the director of Cleveland operations vows a hall will rise on the shores of Lake Erie.

Director Michael Benz's assertions that ground will be broken by next summer, however, do not entirely quiet the long-simmering rumbles of skepticism that Cleveland will ever get its act -- or its finances -- together.

In 1986, Cleveland beat out Memphis, New York and other cities to have the hall. The building, as a centerpiece of its downtown renewal project, would cost about $28 million and open in 1989.

Now, says Mr. Benz, the projected cost is "about $84 million-$85 million," with $65 million-$66 million for the building and exhibits and the rest for fees and financing costs.

Cleveland has $44 million "raised or committed," he says -- about the same figure then-director Larry Thompson cited three years ago. That includes city and state money plus funds from the private sector, which have never reached the level organizers had hoped for.

"These are not the best of times for raising money," says Mr.

Benz. "But we are confident we will have the financing to break ground by late spring or early summer."

He says the delays should cause no alarm: "It isn't unusual for world-class buildings to take 10 to 15 years. I'm not saying we need that long, but this isn't some office that can be done quickly."

One delay came two years ago, when the city moved the site. Another arose when architect I. M. Pei's exterior design -- an angled structure with a glass facade -- turned out to be incompatible with the interior exhibit areas.

"Now it matches," says Mr. Benz.

The hall has been more successful at collecting artifacts. It has more than 7,000 pieces of memorabilia, including a large Jimi Hendrix collection, and curator Bruce Harrah-Conforte says the planned research facility looks very promising.

Still, some skepticism about Cleveland remains. The Hall of Fame's board of directors in New York, particularly prime movers Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records and Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine, have been tactful but often frustrated when asked about Cleveland's progress.

Mr. Ertegun has never specifically raised the possibility the site could be moved but has also not ruled it out.

Mr. Benz says he's not concerned: "We're thankful for the support from Ahmet, Jann and all the others."

The Hall's eighth annual induction dinner will be Jan. 12 in Los Angeles, its first time away from New York. Inductees include Ruth Brown, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doors, Etta James, Sly and the Family Stone, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and Van Morrison. Dinah Washington will be inducted as an early influence, and Milt Gabler and Dick Clark as non-performers.

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