Merchandise Mart President Chris Kennedy spent the first 40 minutes of a public hearing in a presentation full of big numbers and big predictions.
He claimed a combination of Medical Mart displaying health care products with a Convention Center would be a difference-maker for Cleveland bringing guaranteed visitors, jobs and dollars.
Backers outnumbered bashers at the event. Outside, hotel and restaurant workers rallied chanting, "what do we want? Medical Mart. What will it be? A shot in the arm."
Inside downtown businessmen and union leaders and civic-minded citizens praised the County Commissioners for making a decision to get a big project going.
Commissioners Tim Hagan and Jimmy Dimora are poised to raise the sales tax a quarter percent. That means a $100 purchase would cost a quarter more boosting the 7 1/2 percent tax to 7 3/4 percent, the state's highest.
Critics argued businesses should pay for the whole project. The tax would pay only for the convention center portion of the complex.
"No convention center in the country was built
without a public subsidy," said Hagan.
But the biggest complaint was that people should vote on a tax that everyone pays.
There will be a second hearing next week.
Critics will then have 30 days to collect about 45,000 signatures to force a vote.
If they can, the likely vote would come in March.
Kennedy said his team is loyal to Cleveland for the project site and would not issue an ultimatum or threaten to woo another city.
He did say, "if this goes until March it's inconceivable to me that another city won't have a response that's devastating to Cleveland."