CLEVELAND — The I-X Exposition Center will close after 35 years in business due to the coronavirus pandemic, the company announced Wednesday.
The pandemic hit the event industry particularly hard as mass gatherings were banned under the governor’s order when the pandemic first started.
Since 1985, the I-X Center has been home to annual events such as the Home and Garden Show, the Auto Show and the Indoor Amusement Park. It has welcomed more than 2 million visitors annually. In the late 80s, the 2.2. million-square-foot building was first recognized in the Guinness World Records as the largest single building convention center in the county.
The I-X Center has been an integral part of Cleveland’s tourism as it became a destination for trade shows and events due in part to its size, location next to the airport and access to multiple interstates.
“The I-X Center would like to thank all its customers, employees, and attendees who helped make the I-X Center a success over the past 35 years,” the company wrote in a release.
The building of the I-X Center has a long history, dating back to 1942 when it was built as the Cleveland Bomber Plant, but known to most as the Cleveland Tank Plant. It was owned by the Department of Defense during World War II and operated by General Motors as the Fisher Body Aircraft Plant No. 2, making the B-29 bomber.
In its heyday, it employed 15,000 workers. When the war ended, the plant closed. The City of Cleveland decided against leasing the facility for future airport expansion at a rate of $1 per year for fear it couldn't afford the maintenance costs. From there, it had a brief tenure as a sales center and then was leased to National Terminals for soybean storage.
By the 1950s, as the Korean War expanded, GM Cadillac Division selected the Bomber Plant as the site to manufacture army tanks. GM produced the Walker Bulldog until 1955. When Congress decided to end the program with the GM contract in 1972, the Department of Defense announced its intention to sell the plant.
Cleveland, Brook Park and GM expressed interest in buying but dropped out of bidding. In 1977, Park Corporation of Charleston, WV bought the facility to create an international trade mart. The plan never fully materialized, but in 1985, it opened the former plant as the International Exposition Center. Over the years, it expanded into the 2.2 million-square-foot building it is today.