CLEVELAND, Ohio — As developers of Nashville’s proposed medical mart trumpeted a planned location and opening date for their project, Cleveland-area officials did their best to downplay the significance of their rival’s announcement.
Like Cleveland, Nashville leaders plan to construct a glass office tower on ground above the city’s underground convention center that would house the nation’s first medical-products showcase.
Construction in Nashville would begin in mid- to late-2010, with the $250 million, 2-million-square-foot medical mart expected to open in the first quarter of 2013, according to Bill Winsor, CEO of the project’s Dallas-based developer, Market Center Management Co. (Cleveland developers are also targeting a 2013 opening date.) Winsor spoke Monday afternoon in a conference call with reporters.
Despite recent squabbles that appear to have knocked the Cleveland project back on its heels, local leaders dismissed the apparent signs of Nashville’s progress.
“We have a site and we have funding,” said Ken Silliman, chief of staff to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. “Where’s their funding?”
Silliman’s correct about that. The one distinct advantage Cleveland has over its competitors–and a point that local officials never tire of mentioning–is a source of funding. Cuyahoga County commissioners pushed through a 20-year quarter-cent hike in the county sales tax, which has thus far netted about $75 million, to fund the $425 million medical mart project.
In contrast, the Nashville project has no significant public funding. Rather, the project’s developers say they’ll make an unspecified cash investment and secure financing to cover the rest of the costs. Now that they’ve settled on a site, developers will look to begin leasing space to prospective tenants. Enticing some tenants to sign on the dotted line would obviously help with the financing.
Cuyahoga County Administrator Jim McCafferty also sought to minimize the impact of Nashville’s site selection. “I don’t think it means anything” for Cleveland, he said. McCafferty admitted that Nashville’s announcement “could” signal that Cleveland is momentarily slipping behind the Tennessee city in the race to be the nation’s first medical mart to open, but stressed that the Nashville project’s lack of funding means Cleveland is the front-runner.
Another hurdle for Nashville: In order to build atop its existing convention center, the city must approve plans for a new $585 million convention center to take its place. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean told reporters he expects that to happen in January.
Still, it’s not hard to imagine sweaty palms and raised voices behind closed doors in Cleveland’s halls of power. Developers of both the Cleveland and Nashville projects have repeatedly stressed that it is critical to be the first medical mart to open. Winsor reitereated that point to reporters Monday.
“It is an important factor,” Winsor said. “I don’t really feel the industry can support more than one for the foreseeable future.”
The top local official for MMPI, the Chicago-based firm that is to develop and own Cleveland’s medical mart, told Cleveland City Council recently, “It’s a critical issue to take advantage of the first-mover benefits.”
With such bold and clear public pronouncements, there could be hell to pay for leaders of whichever project is the second to cross the finish line. The good news, for both cities, is that there’s still plenty of time before 2013.
An MMPI official didn’t return a call Monday morning.