And they’re off. Thanks to our now-business-friendly board of county commissioners, especially Chief Fixer Tim Hagan, planners for the city’s new medical mart/convention center have actual work to do now (for more about how Commissioner Hagan was able to line the pockets of longtime friend and med mart developer Chris Kennedy, see “How We Got Screwed”).

Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones says negotiations with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson for the site to be located on Mall B and C (next to Dick Jacob’s Key Tower interests) are expected to wrap up soon. At that point, Kennedy’s Medical Merchandise Properties Inc. will set designers loose for about a year to design what Jones hopes to be an iconic addition to the city. "We feel we have additional momentum with the execution of the development agreement and we don’t want to lose that,” says Jones.

And over the next year or so, says Jones, area CEOs should start thinking about how sexy their company’s name would look out on that marquee. That’s right: we could have a naming rights war on our hands, right here in River City!

“Stay tuned,” says Jones, who all along has hoped to see more private-sector support for the new development. “There’s great hope on our parts that with naming rights or whathaveyou, that they will be able to participate at some level, with the promotional opportunities.” (Our hope: The McDonald’s Medical Mart and Convention Center.)

Whatever the name, they’re likely to need every dime they can find. Don’t forget about what happened in Birmingham, Alabama. In September 2007, Crain’s Cleveland Business sent up the warning flare about the 1990s failure of Birmingham’s similarly modeled Medical Forum, billed at the time as a no-brainer (sound familiar?).

“The medical industry proved to be totally different that what we expected,” reported Jack Fields, who was in charge of booking the Forum. Fields said that Birmingham’s salespeople assumed its convention center and medical mart would complement each other, but “dealers told him they preferred that customers come to showrooms at their own plants” — far away from the competition’s counter-pitches.

MMPI stood its ground, though. “If every time we launched into a new business we stepped back from that business because there was some piece of evidence indicating the business wouldn’t do well, we wouldn’t have 17 buildings now and 60 trade shows,” Mark Falanga, senior vice president of Merchandise Mart Properties, told Crain's. “We would be a small, little company.”

Local leaders say that it’s Cleveland Clinic’s eminence that will give the Cleveland venture the edge. But Birmingham thought it had the right timing too. The city was about to open what was billed the Mayo Clinic of the South at the Kirklin Clinic, and U.S. News and World Report had just named the city’s medical school at the University of Alabama the best “up-and-coming” medical school in America.
The Medical Forum is office space today. Read Crain's entire report here. — Dan Harkins

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