Medical Mart land purchase announcement could wait until Monday

Negotiations to acquire public land for a new medical mart and convention center continued, though the talks could push past today’s deadline and through the weekend to arrive at a deal. The final price tag will be more than $17.5 million, according to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

Updated: 8 a.m., 5/2/2009

CLEVELAND, OHIO — Negotiations to acquire public land for a new medical mart and convention center continued, though the talks will push past today’s deadline and through the weekend to arrive at a deal.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said the final price for the land would be higher than the “ultimatum” price of $17.5 million demanded by county officials earlier. The Plain Dealer reported early Saturday that the final price could be $20 million.

“Just as importantly, my concerns surrounding agreement details that protect the public’s interest are also being addressed,” Jackson stated. “I look forward to moving ahead with this very important project for the city and the region.”

Mark Falanga, senior vice president for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (MMPI) that would operate facility, said he was “optistic.” He pointed out that spending too much on the land could hurt the final product, though he said he didn’t know how much would be too much for the land.

“For every dollar that is spent on non-facility components — the land and things of that nature — is one less dollar that goes into the building,” said Falanga, whose company was in today’s negotiation sessions. “Again, everyone involved in this project wants a competitive facility that allows us to meet our objectives.”

Cuyahoga County Administrator Jim McCafferty said Friday evening an announcement wouldn’t be made until Monday.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” McCafferty added.

County officials had set a deadline of Friday to complete a land deal, saying they would start looking for another site — most likely in the city’s hospital-heavy University Circle area — if they couldn’t have the convention center property. While the county has offered $17.5 million for the property, the city wants $25 million.

McCafferty refused to call any issue — including price — a “sticking point.”

“In these kinds of deals, there’s lots of stuff to be cleaned up,” he said.

Among the issues that may be addressed in a deal: concerns that the medical mart could undercut Positively Cleveland, the city’s visitors’ bureau.

The county cinched an operating agreement on April 16 with MMPI in Chicago to build and manage the convention center and medical mart. The hope is that the medical mart complex will make Cleveland a hub for medical conventions and related commercial activity.

Falanga said he did forsee any problems with additional requirements to, as Jackson said, “protect the public’s interest.”

“We want to be embracing of the community,” Falanga said.

McCafferty said MMPI has been consulted on the negotiations.