MMPI BLAMES MEDMART BAIT AND SWITCH ON CITY

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The deal to bring a Medical Mart to Cleveland continues to get more troubling and confusing after the Chicago-based developer reneged on a plan to incorporate the city’s Public Auditorium into its project.

Officials from Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. say the company scrapped plans to incorporate Public Auditorium into its grand scheme for a complex at Mall C because the building's mechanical, electrical, heating and cooling systems are in shambles and too expensive to fix. Those officials reiterated that point during a marathon three-hour session in front of Cleveland City Council Tuesday.

What’s troubling is that MMPI didn’t come to this conclusion until after the city and county — the catalyst of the controversial project — made a tentative $20 million deal for Public Auditorium and the city’s underground Convention Center. As Mayor Frank Jackson told The Plain Dealer last week, MMPI should have known that building needed extensive work from preliminary inspections. Jackson’s chief of staff, Ken Silliman, told Scene Tuesday that the city never hid the fact that the auditorium is an aging building with aging systems.

MMPI says it had budgeted $32 million for renovations at Public Auditorium (the company is looking to spend roughly $425 million on the project). The renovation number jumped to roughly $90 million because of the building’s condition, officials said.

MMPI hammered the point home with a PowerPoint presentation showing Public Auditorium’s ancient ductwork and electrical panels. MMPI vice-president Mark Falanga said the company had assumed that public auditorium was "safe and code-compliant" because it had hosted large events, including the funeral of Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs-Jones and the Rock Hall induction ceremony. Thousands of people attended those events.

As MMPI officials presented a photo slide show of the auditorium's ancient innards, Council President Martin Sweeney ordered them to speed up their presentation and move on. "We know we have some issues over there," Sweeney said tersely.

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