A family watches as sharks swim a few feet away in a tank at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.
The Plain Dealer Enlarge
There aren't sharks swimming in the Cuyahoga River -- just next to it -- at northeast Ohio's splashiest new tourist attraction.
The Greater Cleveland Aquarium opened in late January, a showcase for 5,000 swimmers in 40 tanks tucked into the corners and crevices of a historic building that once powered the city's electric streetcar system.
City officials are hoping the attraction -- and several others to open this year -- can help fuel the city's latest renaissance.
Last week, the state's first casino, Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, opened in the former Higbee's department store on downtown's Public Square. And in the fall, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland will relocate to a new building in the city's cultural district east of downtown.
These developments -- with more coming in 2013, including a new convention center -- are spurring hotel development, new restaurants, and nightlife options throughout the city.
"It's an incredible time," said Tami Brown, general manager of the new aquarium, who previously served as a vice president of the region's visitors bureau. "We haven't seen development like this since the 1990s."
Unlike the building boom of 20 years ago, however, which targeted leisure travelers with new ballparks and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, this round of investment offers something for both business travelers and vacationers.
The new aquarium kicked off the year with a splash, drawing nearly 200,000 visitors in its first three months of operation.
The aquarium, at 70,000 square feet, is modest in comparison to some of its peers. It's just more than half the size of the Newport Aquarium near Cincinnati, for example, and, at $22 per adult admission, similarly priced.
Among the facility's key attractions: the 150-foot-long shark tunnel, with sand tiger sharks, stingrays, eels, and other creatures, and a touch tank with crabs, stingrays, and small sharks. If you can, plan your visit for late afternoon, when daily feedings occur.
The seahorses, removed early in the year to make improvements to their habitat, will return in late May; an octopus will make its debut in the summer, and a jellyfish exhibit will open in the fall.
The city's other major attraction isn't as kid-friendly: Horseshoe Casino opened last week, with 2,100 slot machines, 63 table games, and a 30-table poker room. It's the first of four casinos -- authorized by Ohio voters in 2009 -- to open in the state.
Casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati (set to open next year) are being operated by Caesars Entertainment Corp., the Las Vegas company that runs dozens of casinos across the country. The Hollywood Casinos in Toledo and Columbus are slated to open in late May and late 2012, respectively.
Cleveland's casino is housed on four floors of the historic Higbee building, adjacent to the city's Tower City Center mall. Gamblers who want to spend the night can choose between the Ritz-Carlton and Renaissance Cleveland, both under Tower City's roof.
Nor will gamers go hungry: The Spread, a 400-seat buffet with seven themed food stations, is operating on the casino's lower level, and well-known Cleveland restaurateurs Michael Symon and Rocco Whalen and east-side deli Corky & Lenny's are running more casual eateries within the facility.
Modern art on the move
East of downtown, the city's central arts district, University Circle, is getting some attention as well. The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, a showcase for envelope-pushing art, is moving from its location on Carnegie Avenue to a dramatic new home on Euclid Avenue in early October. The museum is a high-profile addition to the new development known as Uptown, which includes residences, restaurants, and shopping near the busy campuses of Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic.