Downtown businesses capitalized on LeBron's popularity to grow, will support themselves now

Posted at 6:45 AM, Oct 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-19 06:48:11-04

It's hard to miss the new 10-story tall banner downtown where LeBron James' iconic image used to be. Even though the King is no longer ruling Cleveland's court across the street, businesses just a few blocks away aren't worried.

The old "LeBron banner" that hung across from Quicken Loans Arena until a few days after James announced he'd leave Cleveland for the L.A. Lakers. Swipe left to see the new banner, featuring one of the Guardians of Transportation.

With barely an open chair inside Barrio's downtown location, the staff said it's a light crowd for a Friday lunch.

"Honestly, it wasn't on our radar too much," said Barrio's Director of Operations Jake Hawley about James leaving for L.A.

Barrio wasn't around the first time James left, but Hawley said it might not have been that way back then.

"Eight years ago, downtown Cleveland wasn't anywhere near as busy and didn't have the economic development it has today," said Hawley.

Case Western Reserve University Economics Professor Mark Votruba said the downtown businesses have built up solid customer bases and don't need to rely on the Cavs, or LeBron, to bring people in.

Businesses near East 4th say the downtown area has developed enough to support itself, even without one of the most-watched NBA players just down the street.

But fans heading to the arena might see a big change in the experience.

"Last year, when the Cavaliers were selling out every game, they weren't worried about reducing concession prices to put more people in the seats," said Votruba. "They already had the gym filled."

Concession prices aren't changing much at Quicken Loans Arena, and the only noticeable change in the promotional schedule since LeBron was on the court is in the bobbleheads.

Construction continues outside Quicken Loans Area as part of the Q transportation process.

Before LeBron left, the Cavs planned for two bobblehead nights with players to be named later. 

This season, the team has already rolled out four bobblehead nights, featuring vet Kevin Love, the rookie Collin Sexton, Akron-native Larry Nance Jr. and his former-Caviler father Larry Nance Sr. 

That's the kind of promotion Votruba says could help put fans in seats even without one of the league's most-watched players on the court.