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Public Weighs in on Medical Mart Site

Friday, May 23, 2008 at 10:22 AM

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The debate over locating the proposed Medical Mart and Convention Center went public, last night. On an otherwise pleasant Spring evening, 80 Cuyahoga County residents elected to sit in a Cleveland meeting hall and voice their two cents-worth on an economic development project currently budgeted at over 400 million dollars. ideastream®'s David C. Barnett was there.

Architect Will Vogel gave a presentation on behalf of locating the Medical Mart project in Tower City, whereas engineer Gene Baxendale, spoke on behalf of remodeling the present convention center, located under the mall, next to Public Hall.  Although at least three other proposals have been floated, County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones said none of them really had the traction of these two.  After the presentations, members of the audience offered their questions or comments.  Restaurateur Mike Zappone echoed a theme that was heard several times during the evening --- the fact that the terminal property is owned by a private interest --- Forest City --- whereas the current convention center on the mall is public property.

ZAPPONE: The first plan, we put money into one corporation’s pocket.  The second plan, we’re putting money into many corporations’ pockets --- many individual property owners. 

Kathleen Crowther of the Cleveland Restoration Society also made a pitch for renovating the current convention center site, which is part of a century-old mall plan that was never completed.

CROWTHER: We have really the generational opportunity to complete the mall plan by rebuilding our convention center.  We should really think about redeveloping the entire block.

By the end of a three-hour meeting that was only scheduled to last for two, Will Vogel was hard-pressed to find any supporters of his Tower City plan. 

VOGEL: Look, healthy dialog is important, and the commissioners need to hear what the people have to say.  But, people have to look at what makes for successful facilities.  And as much as I have appreciation for the mall site, it will never be a connected site.  It will never infuse the life and the economic value into what’s around it.

Most everyone agreed that, whichever sites remain in contention, an “apples-to-apples” cost comparison method is needed for the final evaluation.  Commissioner Jones assured the audience that such a process will be part of the site selection committee’s final report which is expected in early June.  He said the Board of Commissioners plan to make their decision in July. 

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