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WEB Exclusive: Medical Mart talks leave most questions unsettled

11:33 PM, Nov 16, 2007   |    comments
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That's about $3.6 million dollars a month that's going into a special "untouchable" fund. Commissioners passed the tax without a people's vote. Many people ask what's happening to their money. The idea is to build a showcase for medical products that will attract trade shows, visitors and companies that make products and do research. Negotiations to make the project happen don't seem to be making much headway. It's all very complicated as a public and private partnership. Questions of who owns what, who operates what and who pays for what are all interrelated. Cuyahoga County's chief negotiator Fred Nance sat down with Senior Political Correspondent Tom Beres for an at-length interview on the subject. Nance disclosed the list of about a dozen possible sites has been cut in half. The commissioners' current preferred site is on the current Convention Center site and adjoining property. Public land would be cheaper and easier to get. "It's in the middle of other downtown assets and would help give the city a path to the lakefront," according to Nance. Other downtown locations including the Higbee Building conversion and Forest City convention center site and port parking lots by Browns Stadium are still in the running too. Officials and business leaders want the project downtown to benefit hotels and restaurants. But Nance says Medical Mart negotiators are still keenly interested in locations near University Circle. "Our hospital systems our a primary reason they wanted to come here in the first place, " he said. They argue the project would be more successful close to the Cleveland Clinic and University Circle. And if more people flock to the Medical Mart, they will have to stay at downtown hotels and could provide ridership on the Euclid Corridor line. The Medical Mart team also wants to consider building the facility inside the convention center. Nance claims they have not committed to putting up a specific investment to pay for the Medical Mart building itself and suggested an inside the Convention Center facility might be built with public money. "That's a work in progress," Nance said. Commissioners set a year-end deadline to get a recommended site. Nance believes it may take more time than that. But despite fundamental disagreements and seemingly deal-breaking issues, Nance believes the project will get done. "This is no different than the NFL Cleveland Browns or Continental Airlines. When you start negotiating the issues seem big. But you work toward the middle to find common ground, " Nance said. If a convention center does not happen, commissioners promised to rescind the quarter-percent sales tax. But the language of the resolution they passed gives them latitude to spend the money collected on any economic development project. Nance claims no other cities have made sales pitches to steal the medical mart project. But Nance agrees,"They do have other options." Nance says his biggest worry is whether the Medical Mart team can line up and sign leases with exhibitors . Click "Play Video" to watch Fred Nance's interview. Click "Play Video" to watch Tom Beres' report.

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