Updated 8:00 p.m.
A citizens’ group is urging Cuyahoga County to delay the much-anticipated medical mart’s planned October groundbreaking, citing concerns about finances and what it sees as inadequate planning.
Citizens Reform Association of Cuyahoga County urged county commissioners to put the project on hold to allow further time to study it, the Plain Dealer reported.
MMPI, the Chicago-based developer of the project, isn’t likely to agree with those concerns as it’s enmeshed in a race with Nashville (and to a lesser extent, New York) to open the nation’s first medical-products showcase. MMPI officials have repeatedly stressed the importance of getting up and running first, arguing that the national healthcare market is likely to only support one medical mart, which is still an unproven concept at this point.
Reached by e-mail, MMPI spokesman Dave Johnson stressed that the project is “on track.”
“MMPI, the City, the County, and our architecture and construction partners continue to communicate on a regular basis and collaborate fully on Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center,” Johnson said. “We will all continue to work together closely to develop the design and construct the facility within the budget parameters developed for the project.”
The reform group’s director suggested the project had the potential to be as disastrous as the Gulf Oil spill–more than a bit of a stretch since even if the project fails, it’s unlikely to compromise the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Americans.
Nonetheless, the group’s objections to the project are certainly legitimate points that should be strongly considered. First, the group is concerned that the county-wide quarter-cent sales tax hike won’t be enough to fund the project, which is estimated to cost $425 million–and that figure doesn’t include the cost of servicing the debt that’s also being used to fund the project.
Additionally, the group questions MMPI’s assumptions about how many visitors the convention center would draw and how much they would spend.
The citizens’ group is urging the delay to allow for time for an indepent study to establish a contingency plan in case the sales tax revenues aren’t sufficient to cover the project’s cost, among other things.
Further irking the group, MMPI and the county have yet to release a detailed budget or design plans.
One thing Cleveland has going for it is that its competitors look to be sagging under the weight of a depressed economy–for the time being, at least. New York’s developers have been publicly silent for so long that it’s completely reasonable to wonder whether that project has fallen off a cliff.
Nashville–which doesn’t have the source of public funding for its project that Cleveland does–appears to be struggling to sign up tenants. So far it has two publicly committed tenants, but those are “educational” leaseholders rather than the corporate customers–such as health IT vendors, medical-device makers and hospital equipment sellers–that’ll be required if the project is ever to come to fruition.
Plus the Cleveland project is enjoying a little “positive momentum” in Johnson’s words. MMPI has secured 28 letters of intent for permanent showrooms in the medical mart and 15 LOIs for events in the convention center, Johnson said That’s four and three more, respectively, than MMPI had previously publicly announced.
So maybe Cleveland does have a little time to take a step back, after all.