Are things finally looking up for the Cleveland medical mart?

A rendering of the Cleveland medical mart

Cleveland-area taxpayers can be forgiven if they’re a little skeptical about the outlook for the medical mart project they’ve been funding.

For starters, the medical mart concept (a collection of product showrooms that feature the latest in medical technology) is unproven, and it’s never really been clear that the biggest players in the market are interested.

Plus, for a supposed world-class institution, the initial list of interested tenants was underwhelming and consisted of mainly small, Ohio-based companies. MMPI, the Chicago-based property developer behind the project, last year made confusing and contradictory public statements about changing the medical mart’s business model — and then backtracked. And MMPI has consistently declined to name even one tenant with a signed lease, unlike chief rival Nashville, which has named roughly a dozen.


Add it all up and it’s easy to question whether the Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center is a good deal for anyone besides the construction companies that are building it.

But new leadership and more importantly, an advisory group of industry heavy hitters, signify that things might — repeat, might — finally be turning around for the medical mart.

The new leadership comes in the form of Jim Bennett, a former McKinsey consultant and long-time player in the local business scene who holds a substantial Rolodex. Bennett is MMPI’s top local official and will act as the medical mart project’s liaison to local healthcare, government and business leaders, as well as prospective tenants.

In an interview at MMPI’s offices that overlook the Medical Mart & Convention Center construction site, Bennett spoke of the “evolving” vision for the medical mart. Early on, the medical mart concept was seen as a collection of product showrooms for individual companies.

That’s still part of the plan, but the medical mart could also host multivendor showrooms that would highlight how medical technologies from different companies could work together. Examples might include “the operating room of the future” or “the patient waiting room of the future,” Bennett said.

Will it work? Who knows, but the move signals a positive shift toward soliciting, and hopefully acting on, feedback from the market.

“Rather than taking a concept and saying, ‘Come sign [a lease] and fit into the  way we want to do it,’ we’re talking to tenants and seeing what would be appealing to them,” Bennett said.

Regardless of the eventual look and feel of the medical mart once it opens next year, one of the biggest questions has revolved around the companies that will be tenants when it does.

A new advisory panel of healthcare industry heavyweights that’s offering MMPI insight on how to best make the mart enticing could be the beginning of drawing some high-profile medical technology names that were so glaringly absent from the initial list of prospective tenants.

The panel, recruited mostly by Cleveland Clinic and BioEnterprise, currently consists of 11 companies that include Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, GE Healthcare, Stryker and Philips Healthcare.

Bennett said he’s been conducting individual meetings with members of the panel, but expects that they’ll talk as a group every two months or so.

Still, this is just a panel we’re talking about. Certainly, industry feedback is important, but what would really go a long way in increasing confidence in the medical mart’s viability would be signing some of these big-name companies to leases. Bennett hopes that happens.

“I would be disappointed if some of these didn’t end up as tenants,” he said.

Bennett acknowledged that drawing big-name, top-of-industry companies is “very important” to the medical mart’s success.

“It’s hard to claim this is a medical capital if you don’t have people from out of town who are industry leaders,” he said. “If we don’t have some industry leaders saying, ‘We’re excited about this,’ I’ll be disappointed in myself.”

Statements like those might not seem like much, but they represent more transparency and candor than we’d been getting from MMPI prior to Bennett’s arrival.

That subtle shift — and the involvement of some major, non-Ohio-based, top-tier medical technology industry leaders — could signify better days ahead for the Cleveland medical mart, and the local taxpayers who’ve been wondering what their elected officials have gotten them into.

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