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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

STOP THE PRESSES: CITY COUNCIL RUBBER-STAMPS MEDMART DEAL

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2009 at 10:38 AM

The medical mart/convention center marriage is a no-brainer, huh? No need for competitive bidding? First of its kind!? A win-win?!?! All this and more is finally stinking up the place like the bullshit it always was. Sadly, it’s too late.

Cleveland City Council president Martin Sweeney, ever in deference to the Powers That Be, scheduled a series of no-nonsense-please committee meetings on Monday afternoon, just hours before a final vote to sell the city’s downtown mall site for $20 million to the county, the very last legislative “hurdle” to the county’s med-mart deal.

After Sweeney finished reading the legislation like a drunk auctioneer, county comissioner (and reigning Democratic county boss) Jimmy Dimora cracked, “You’d make a good clerk of council someday. You read well.” Sweeney’s face reddened, and there was nervous laughter all around, as Dimora jiggled like Santa at the expense of one of his chief elves. (You may recall that Sweeney’s first council clerk, Emily Lipovan, resigned a few years back amid complaints of Sweeney’s alleged sexual and religious harassment. Good times.)

Dimora spent a lot of time petting the “august body” for “a job well done,” pointedly adding, “and continued success to all of you in your election bids.” A few nervous cackles: Dimora can influence whether an incumbent’s re-election bid is a cakewalk or a struggle. “And the couple of you that aren’t going to have a ward [due to council downsizing]. Oh well, that’s life.”

Then back to business. Dimora and fellow commissioner Tim Hagan made the same argument they’ve made all along for why they broke with commissioner Peter Lawson Jones to vote a sales-tax increase for the project instead of letting the voters decide. “We wanted [Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., the project’s prime benefactor] to know we were putting our money where our mouth is,” said Dimora, “and that we were serious about this project, so they would get serious.”

And now that the deal is done, all three commissioners are (finally) forthright about their plans to get a new county HQ out of the deal.

“The best way to go,” asserted Dimora, “is to locate the [new convention center] entranceway where the county administration building is and let the [landowner of adjoining property, who’s holding out for a better deal] negotiate with potential hotel developers in the future. And then we could actually take up one of your other empty buildings in town to locate our 1,500 or 1,600 employees and consolidate and hopefully save some money.”

We have no fingers left to cross. Neither do council members, some of whom don’t appreciate their roles in the chorus.

“Based on conversation that occurs here today,” said Ward 17 Councilman Matt Zone, “how would we amend the legislation or … incorporate any changes into the ordinance that we’re voting on tonight?”
Sweeney gave him a look that said, “Smart ass,” and told him to move on. In the end, the deal sailed through council on a unanimous vote.

Earlier, Dimora had tried to explain why the project’s planning went from turtle to waterfall pace: “We want to make sure this project happens before New York or Nashville find a site and try to find some funding for it.”

But they’re already behind, according to the Plain Dealer on Tuesday. Nashville has a reputable private funding source that plans on having its medical mart up and running a full two years before Cleveland’s. And because the city already has a sexy convention center, it’ll be spending many millions more than Cleveland can to build a bigger and potentially prettier medical mart. Sigh.

And then the bullet across the bow: The editor of Tradeshow Week predicted that only one of the two projects would win if they don’t coordinate their efforts. The Nashville project operator’s response (we’re paraphrasing): “Suck it, Cleveland.”

We thought Merchandise Mart Properties was king shit in this biz. Who would challenge them? Somebody, apparently. No, this is not a win-win now. It’s a win-lose. Cleveland. Or Nashville. — Dan Harkins

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