Cleveland: Big hopes, big questions for Medical Mart

4:43 PM, Jun 22, 2012   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- A big project that looks like it will come in at least on time and on budget is cause for a big celebration.

And that's what community leaders, officeholders and hardhats shared Friday.

The traditional "topping off" ceremony commemorates a project with a good safety record.

A flag and evergreen are attached to a signature-laden beam and hoisted to the project's highest point.

The Medical Mart/Convention Center took seven years to get this far from idea to construction.

Along with the Horseshoe Casino and Flats East Bank, it's one of a trio of potentially difference-making projects downtown.

The original players who made it happen, Cuyahoga County Commissioners and Chris Kennedy, the former head man of MMPI, the company behind it, are all gone.

And new players are trying to refine a business model that hopefully will bring success.

The original business model had an "If we build it, they will come" aura around it.

The vision was a giant showplace for medical technology and products that would be a one-stop shopping center for those who equip hospitals.

Somewhere along the way, the idea of making educational/medical meetings and conferences became more prominent.

Jim Bennett, the Cleveland-connected and third different MMPI vice president to head up the project, is working to refine how the Mart will be used.

He knows there are skeptics who fear the project will not deliver the impact originally envisioned.

"Judge us by our performance. It will be clearer and clearer by the time summer is over...It is going to be the home for industry leaders and one of the most dynamic spaces in the world, " he said.

Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove is often credited with originating the project's concept.

"They said it couldn't happen and it happened. They said it couldn't be built and it's built.....It will make Cleveland and Northeast Ohio a medical capital of the world," he said.

Cuyahoga County Ed FitzGerald said, "We should be skeptical. We have seen projects go over budget and not get done on time. This one is unique. It's on budget and actually ahead of schedule."

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson added, "This is a pivotal time for Clevland. This is a transforming time for Cleveland."

The $465 million complex is set to open next September.

A bid to sell naming rights will start next week.

Marketing for the project now recognizes that the Convention Center is the primary component.

21 conventions are already booked and 20 tenant leases have been signed. Bennett said talks are going on with 70 other groups seeking a meeting site and 102 possible exhibitors.

No names can be released yet, but will start to be over the summer.

BioEnterprise President Baiju Shah says the bricks and mortar of the project becoming real is accelerating discussions among and with companies interested in collaborating with each other to create a vision of state of the art operating rooms and medical facilities. 

"This is  a new concept for the industry...a first-of-its kind..There's no question it will be full of tenants," he said.

Mike Murphy , a hardhat dressed as Santa Claus, said, "This is a great day for Cleveland and a great project."

Those who helped make it happen hope he's right.

WKYC-TV

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