Pro Football Hall of Fame hires ex-Disney exec as it creates ‘Disneyland of Football’

CANTON, Ohio-- Administrators at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton envisioned creating a nearly $1 billion football-themed attraction on the hall's campus for years.

The vision involved 10 different components, including the existing museum, the $200 million Tom Benson Stadium and the now-completed youth football sports complex.

Originally, they aimed to complete it by the summer of 2019 with a four-star hotel, a "Center for Excellence," and a promenade with shops and restaurants, like "the world's greatest sports bar." Remaining elements of the entire complex, like a virtual reality football experience and water park,  and a health center with assisted living, were envisioned to be completed in 2020.

Construction of the hotel stalled in 2017.

The hall of fame isn't discussing specifics. But on Thursday, it announced the hiring of Mike Crawford, an Ohio native and former Disney executive, who has served as the senior vice president and general manager of the Disney Shanghai resort.

During an almost 25-year career with Disney, Crawford also served as president of Walt Disney Holdings Company in Shanghai. He led the negotiation and development of Shanghai Disney from 2007 to 2014, a $5.5 billion project.

"He's somebody who knows how to take a project similar to Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village and build it from the ground up. And I think, most importantly, it speaks to the type of talent that is being lured to this project, the type of vision and the type of people that believe in creating something that we think will impact people's lives," said Pete Fierle, Pro Football Hall of Fame spokesman.

Fierle said the existing components of the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village have already attracted thousands to Northeast Ohio. It has brought an estimated 300,000 people to Canton over the past two years, about 70 percent of whom are from outside of Ohio, he said.

The youth football and sports complex on Friday hosted the World Youth Football Championships, bringing more than 3,000 young athletes and their families to Canton from more than 30 states.

The vision for the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village is to give families a world-class football-themed destination that will give them the chance to come to the Hall of Fame and be able to stay for an extended visit. It's something that has been described as the "Disneyland of Football."

"We look to start soon on the hotel that will be a four-star property, will be unlike, I think, any hotel certainly in Ohio . And that will be a great venue to host the events that come here. We will also get started very soon on the "'Center for Excellence' and that will be home to corporate management programs that we are already doing here and around the country, talking about the values you learn from football and how you can apply that to a corporate management team," Fierle said.

"This is a very big vision, a very big project and it's a very complicated project. And so the timeline is being refined on how we will bring other components on board, but we are very excited about what has been completed so far: $200 million of an over $900 million project," he added.

More stories on the Pro Football Hall of Fame here

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