Positively Cleveland says it's one of its destination development efforts


CLEVELAND -- Austin has South by Southwest. Tennessee has Bonnaroo. What could Cleveland have? As the city's partners try to up its "cool factor," could a signature event help complete a reputation makeover?

Positively Cleveland says it's one of its destination development efforts. But it's up to the city's creative class to come up with the right idea.

The organizers behind the 5-year-old Weapons of Mass Creation Festival think it could be a winner.

"Weapons of Mass Creation is a celebration of creative visionaries who defy the hand they are dealt," said cofounder Jeff Finley. "They literally are a force to be reckoned with in terms of their creativity."

Slated for Aug. 15 to 17, 2014, WMC Fest is three days of music, conversation and collaboration to help inspire creativity and entrepreneurship.

Last year, it brought 2,000 people to Cleveland, 60 percent of them from outside the state.

"It's been harder to actually get traction locally than nationally because you put stuff out on the Internet, and the world can see you," said Finley.

Like SXSW did for Austin, could a cultural celebration of music or technology help draw millennials to the city? Years from now, it could be WMC we're talking about. They want to expand organically.

"It's not that far off," said Todd Gauman, the event director for WMC. "I'm telling you in my gut and through my experience that it is plausible and it's possible. We've seen the event grow exponentially in the last three years."

Whether its WMC or another seedling, one big festival could be the change that helps reinforce new branding Positively Cleveland released Wednesday.

"It starts grassroots because of that creative class, and it doesn't have to be the next anything. It becomes its own original thing," said David Gilbert, president and CEO of Positively Cleveland.

While those ideas incubate, Gilbert says the best bet now is to bring existing events and their followings here for instant economic impact and a lot of new ambassadors. The downside is that those events, like the Gay Games 9, happen once.

Greg Harris, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, says collaboration could help a signature event go further.

"What Cleveland needs to do is find some of these smaller (events) that are working well. We need to invest in them, grow them, build a strong, strong base. We need to take some of the things we're already doing well and combine them," he said. "There are great things happening, but we're just not connecting all of them."

It can take time to build a signature event. South by Southwest started in 1987 with just 700 attendees. In just 10 days in 2013, it had an impact of $220 million dollars on Austin's economy.

Everyone seems to agree: To see that kind of success, a signature event must be authentic and unique to Cleveland, ideas like WMC, like Bright Winter Festival or the upcoming NEOCYCLE cycling conference.

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