Policy

Cleveland medical mart: Are performance requirements too low?

The Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center isn’t required to generate more hotel room nights than the city’s old, outdated convention center did as it was staggering toward death just a few years ago, per the project’s operating agreement with Cuyahoga County. Hotel room nights is an important metric for the medical mart and convention […]

The Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center isn’t required to generate more hotel room nights than the city’s old, outdated convention center did as it was staggering toward death just a few years ago, per the project’s operating agreement with Cuyahoga County.

Hotel room nights is an important metric for the medical mart and convention center project because it’ll be a key illustration of the project’s true value (or lack thereof) to the region. In addition to hotel rooms, overnight travelers figure to spend their cash in Cleveland on meals, bar tabs, cab rides, entertainment and the like, though probably not Browns games.

But the operating agreement between the county and MMPI, the Chicago-based property developer behind the project, never calls for the project to generate more than 33,278 hotel room nights in a year. Cleveland’s old convention center generated 64,812 hotel room nights in 2006, and 36,954 the following year, before plummeting in subsequent years, according to Positively Cleveland, the local conventions and tourism group.

As Jeff Appelbaum, an attorney who’s the county’s point man for the project, correctly told Scene, it’s important to distinguish between the project’s minimum performance requirements (what MMPI must do to avoid penalties) from its “projections” (the numbers MMPI and local leaders anticipate the project will achieve). For example, the medical mart and convention center is “projected” to lure about 300,000 visitors a year, but it’s never required to bring in more than 214,500.

The problem with that distinction, though, is that there is no “projection” number attached to hotel room nights. An MMPI spokesman said he wasn’t aware of any such number. Appelbaum didn’t immediately return a call.

Furthermore, a 2005 PricewaterhouseCoopers study projected that a new convention center — which wouldn’t have even included a medical mart — would generate 125,000 hotel room nights per year, Scene reported. Whatever the projections for the medical mart and convention center might be if they existed, surely they’d be lower than that.

So where does that leave us?

Apparently with a bunch of numbers MMPI should have little trouble hitting, and a county government that’s essentially powerless to exact any toll on MMPI for performance that’s merely mediocre, but not terrible. And also maybe with a new-found respect for MMPI’s negotiating prowess.