CLEVELAND, Ohio — In apparent retaliation for the perceived public “trashing” of Public Auditorium, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson excoriated the private company developing the city’s much-anticipated medical mart project.
Jackson was out of town Tuesday and missed Chicago-based Merchandise Mart Properties Inc.’s (MMPI) presentation that, in front of reporters and open to the public, went into great detail about how the nearly 90-year-old Public Auditorium’s heating, cooling, electrical and mechanical systems are riddled with problems. But the mayor fired back Wednesday with a sternly worded press release titled “Mayor Jackson questions MMPI’s motives: Do they really want to be here?”
Jackson’s press release states:
“MMPI elected to publicly trash Public Auditorium in the media even after the building was no longer a part of the plan. MMPI’s actions beg the question: Do they still want to develop in Cleveland?”
During a private presentation to Plain Dealer reporters and editors, and later to the City Council, two top MMPI officials described Public Auditorium’s electrical systems, components of which haven’t been updated for a half-century, as “unsalvageable” and plagued with circuit bypasses and wiring taps that are “illegal,” the Plain Dealer reported. MMPI says Public Auditorium needs about $90 million in upgrades to its heating, cooling, electrical and mechanical systems, an amount that exceeds MMPI’s budget and is the reason the firm wants to abandon plans to use the auditorium as part of its $425-million medical mart project.
The public nature of MMPI’s presentation forced Jackson’s administration to answer uncomfortable questions about why it has recently held high-profile events, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in April, in Public Auditorium given its apparent state of disrepair. Jackson’s Chief of Staff Ken Silliman responded with a curt “Yes” when asked by the Plain Dealer whether the building could safely host a large event tomorrow. MMPI’s top local official, Senior Vice President Mark Falanga, declined to throw the city a lifeline when asked whether the building is a danger to the public.
“”You can draw your own conclusions on that,” Falanga told Plain Dealer reporters and editors. “That’s someone else’s business.”
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting Falanga effectively pre-empted Jackson’s questioning of the company’s commitment to the city by stressing that MMPI remains “100 percent committed” to the project and is “not deterred” by the changes to the project’s construction plans.
An MMPI spokeswoman did not return an after-hours e-mail seeking comment.