Cuyahoga County Commissioners endorse mall site for Cleveland medical mart

Cuyahoga County Commissioners late this afternoon endorsed the mall site of Cleveland’s existing convention center for a medical mart and new convention center. A final deal for the medical mart complex likely will take several months.

Updated 11:50 p.m.

Cuyahoga County Commissioners early Thursday evening endorsed the mall site of Cleveland’s existing convention center for a medical mart and new convention venue.

A medical mart complex built at the mall could cost $108 million less than one built behind Tower City, the other site that has been considered for several months, the commissioners said. The estimated price-tag is in line with public money already set aside for the project, so developers pledged not to ask for additional taxpayer funds.

About 30,000 square feet of the former convention center site could also be renovated into an auditorium and conference center in about a year so it could start hosting smaller medical conventions, officials said.

“We couldn’t build a competitive facility at Tower City,” said Mark Falanga, vice president of Medical Mart Properties Inc., the Chicago company which will build and operate the facility.

The convention center will be more than 300,000 square feet. Falanga said the first version of the medical mart will be 100,000 square feet and four stories tall. The mart portion would be built in a way to accommodate expansion, if needed, Falanga said.

Opening the first portion of the site a  year from now would provide a critical early advantage in the competition to create this medical mart approach, which also is being considered in New  York City, he said.

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However, most conferences book several years in advance. Falanga said MMPI will ask organizations to change their commitment to come to Cleveland. MMPI will also work, in part, with several members of the Cleveland Clinic who also sit on boards of potential conventions that could operate here.

Chris Coburn, executive director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations, said up to a dozen Clinic officials who hold senior positions in national societies will try and help the MMPI officials better understand the medical convention business, identify potential targets and brainstorm other issues.

Many major conventions are planned between four and eight years in advance, Coburn said. But the mere presence of the medical mart could potentially create more economic activity in the medical community, he said.

Much of Cleveland watched the twists, turns and minutiae of the convention center site selection like they would plays in a Browns football game. Many in the city believed it would never happen. Now, suddenly, only a few hurdles remain.

The deal for the medical mart will be contingent on purchasing property from the city and from the owners of a plot of land at 113 St. Clair Ave., which is likely where the mart will be housed.

Another contingency of the deal is the certification of an engineering report by MMPI that reduces the amount of construction necessary and manages the water flow around the base of the facility. It was this engineering approach by MMPI that drastically cut the costs for the mall site.

Supporters of Tower City pointed out the building was a self-contained collection of restaurants, public transit and lodging options that could help it woo conventioneers in the off-season convention periods who wouldn’t want to walk outdoors.

But Falanga said the connection that will be created between the mall site and other portions of downtown Cleveland would be better than convention sites in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Plus, the estimated cost for a Tower City convention center was $533 million compared to $425 million to renovate and expand on the existing convention center. Falanga said MMPI won’t need to “reach further into anyone’s pockets” to fund the construction.

An attempt announced Wednesday to revive another option along the river in the East Bank of Cleveland’s Flats has apparently died as well.

Commissioner Tim Hagan said he supported the mall site because it was important not to abandon the old convention site. Taxpayers would in the future demand something be done with the facility.

A final deal for the medical mart complex likely will take several months, Fred Nance, past chairman of the Greater Cleveland Partnership and regional managing partner of Cleveland law firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, said during a press conference earlier this afternoon.