CLEVELAND, Ohio — GOJO Industries, the Akron-based manufacturer of Purell hand sanitizer, said it will lease 700,000 square feet of the I-X Center in Cleveland, two months after the operator of the event space said it would close due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The company said in a statement Friday that it signed a two-year lease to house inventory at the center, located next to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. The amount of inventory GOJO has “is much higher than normal given our rapid increase in production this year,” according to the statement.
The use of the 2.2-million square-foot building signals there may be a second life for it in the future as the event industry remains decimated by the pandemic.
GOJO’s products have been in high demand since the pandemic reached the United States earlier this year. The company said it produced and shipped 300% more Purell this year than 2019. It also said it now uses two million square feet of manufacturing space and has doubled the number of plants it has, which now include locations in Maple Heights and Navarre.
“The dramatic steps we’ve taken to increase availability, including employing creative solutions like utilizing the I-X Center, are allowing us to serve frontline workers, schools, businesses, and to make Purell hand sanitizer readily available again to consumers on the retail shelf and online,” GOJO President and CEO Carey Jaros said in the statement.
The city of Cleveland owns the I-X Center, obtaining it in 1999 by threat of eminent domain. It was built in the 1940s, after the U.S. War Department authorized construction of the massive facility for military components. It was first dubbed the Cleveland Bomber Plant and later the Cleveland Tank Plant and operated by General Motors.
It wasn’t used as an exhibit hall until 1985.
The I-X Center Corp. runs it, with a lease that runs through 2024. The company, in announcing the facility’s closure in September, noted that the effect of the pandemic, which has led government officials and health experts to dissuade large gatherings, on the event industry.
Neither the city nor a spokeswoman for the I-X Center Corp. provided comments on GOJO’s new lease.
The last event held at the center was the Cleveland Auto Show in February and early March. Organizers for the Auto Show said Monday that they were postponing next year’s show because of the center’s closure and the pandemic, though said they are able to put on the show on at the Huntington Convention Center in downtown Cleveland.
Other 2021 events slated for the center, such as the Ohio RV Supershow and the Great Big Home + Garden Show, were also called off.