Proposal to Resolve Issue of Medical Mart and Convention Center

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Thu, 11/13/2008 - 13:15.

Several years ago, it is said, Cleveland Clinic CEO Cosgrove developed a plan to create a Medical Mart in Cleveland, as a place to centralize much of the commerce between medical device and product supply and demand. This story, still developing, will certainly be one of the great turning points in Cleveland history, as it has raised taxes and spent significant public time, trust and resources on what appear to be whims on promises, which are not appearing very sound... especially under today's shifting and certainly catastrophic economic and social times - not to overlook the fact we must completely overhaul all aspects of health care, supply and demand.

At recent public meetings about the MedCon, as it is appropriately referred, Cleveland State University graduate students made expert presentations on issues and benefits of the MedCon, which at the least surfaced scores of major challenges to be overcome before this project may proceed, if it should proceed at all.

A day later, Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones held a public meeting where the primary champion of the MedCon, GCP CEO Joe Roman, dismissed all claims of the CSU experts as the work of students, and dismissed the very concept of public debate on the MedCon as absurd, and presented a very lame, dated, inaccurate and unactionable picture of the Con ahead, with a yawn.

All public and quite expert concerns were dismissed by Roman as petty strikes against the Empire.

Commissioner Jones was not so dismissive, assuring citizens nothing would happen - and none of the tax revenue collected for this (which Jones did not support) will be spent - until all important issues are addressed. That is certainly the right approach.

Yet, the other day, the Plain Dealer Editors, who have been the official promotional vehicle for the MedCon, published a stern warning and public demand - "PD editorial: Cuyahoga County, Cleveland and developers need to pick Medical Mart site, now" - which I believe is misguided, by all interpretations of the situation. The current economic downturn and an emerging competitive situation in New York City, which seems likely to reduce or eliminate market demand and value for a Medical Mart in Cleveland - add to the complexity of a situation already too complex for the system in place to handle. So, we need a new approach.

My proposal is we separate the Medical Mart and the convention center and analyze and resolve them separately - and the first questions must be asked of Cosgrove, Hagan and Kennedy, being what is the exact economic condition of Medical Mart Properties, and their business plan for the Medical Mart - they need to be audited. Most real estate developers and developers in that sector are hurting right now, so we need proof the Medical Mart piece of this, and the proposed developers, are both solvent and viable - without County taxpayer money.

If solvent, and committed to the Medical Mart, the developers need to act like other developers and choose their best site for the Medical Mart, without using County taxpayer money, but as a private business enterprise. The county may elect to dedicate some funds to the developer, but there is no reason to build this business concept around corporate charity - if the Medical Mart is a good idea it should be able to stand on the medical industry's foundations.

I suggest they put it where the Cleveland Play House is located - it was a Sears and is walking distance for the region's medical community, and has some great developed space for exhibits and small trade events - move the Play House activities to the Triangle and University Circle area with the other region's core arts and culture... and current Playhouse tenant and future Triangle anchor MoCA.

Regarding the Convention Center side of the MedCon, and all or the bulk of the money taxed from Cuyahoga shoppers through misrepresentation, we already have two convention centers, two stadiums, two arenas, and many smaller convention centers, theaters and meeting halls in downtown Cleveland we may optimize to support a large amount of international convening, if a market for that may be developed - our current million or so square feet of space are under developed and underutilized.

We should form a real task force and process to determine if it is worth investing any of the tax money on redeveloping any of these assets and better marketing them to the international convention and meeting world. Rather than conclude that our current facilities and other assets are the problem, assume the people owning, maintaining, marketing and selling them are the problem... like the folks at Forest City, the PD, GCP...despite the fact THEY say the public is the problem... if you believe that!!

To start the public brainstorming process going, I propose the Medical Mart people proceed on their happy way planning a Medical Mart and to contact the public again when they have their site selected, and complete blueprints, and they need permits... they've wasted too much of our time already.

If they decide to build the Cosgrove Medical Mart, it should be on the Medical Line - I suggest the Current Playhouse property. The Playhouse should move all operations out into the community, partnering with all the great theater companies and facilities in town, and eventually have a permanent home in the Triangle. The Medical Mart folks should begin conversion of the Playhouse, MoCA and other area properties immediately - some public funds should be provided for infrastructure improvements.

Since we already have a beautiful convention center at the center of the historically important mall of Cleveland, it makes sense to invest public money in optimizing its functionality and longevity, no matter what. So we should have an international competition to determine how best to leverage these assets and the public spaces and development opportunities around them, for the best public good.

It is Forest City's job to develop their property, at their expense, to meet their business objectives, so I do not see a reason why anything about the Med or the Con must include Forest City, going forward. But, I see Tower City as a core hub to our community's success, as it must become a public transportation hub once more. Sam Miller and the Ratners should be thinking about how to support creation of economic engines on the public transportation grid the VanSweringens worked so hard to center around Public Square.

How I believe the tax revenues should be spent is as leverage to fund improvements to public transportation, focused on optimizing connections between the Mall, and Convention Center (and City Hall, and County Administration, Courts, Justice, etc...) with the end of the Waterfront Line and East 9th Street, and Gateway, and Public Square. I know there have been many plans for such things - a rail loop of all that would work - and now we have some money we can't give back, sitting in the county general fund, that can fund a cool $ billion of public benefit, and public transportation would be an excellent choice for that (especially as the I-90 bridge will soon be closed, and more people will need to use public transit from afar... or move into Cleveland and use public transit at the core.

I believe the Healthline shows how much may change, for good and bad, as we invest in public transportation innovation. We should now connect the best and worst of our public transit innovations and infrastructure improvements - our light rail, Healthline, Circulators, and Public Square core - and optimize all that. Connected will be all our Convention Centers and other convening places, which we already own, and the Medical Mart, if the developers ever come to build that. We, the taxpayers, have no reason to build anything to make them come.

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if we had a competition who should judge?

So I propose a competition "what would you do with the quarter cent sales tax revenue?" Who do you think should be the judges? Obviously we would need some bright minds (not local folk necessarily) and certainly not elected officials or GCP cronies. Who would be an appropriate panel of judges - some with on the ground knowledge of the region and some with economic and planning expertise.