by Frank Lewis
Remember the Medical Mart deal? It's been quiet for a while, but with another election cycle completed it's safe for the con artists behind this farce to start stirring the pot again. The PD reports:
The latest rendition of a Cleveland medical mart calls for a modern glass edifice cascading from the bluff between City Hall and the Cuyahoga County Courthouse.
Proposed for the northern edge of downtown's Mall C, the design is the best alternative for a $425 million convention center complex, said developer MMPI, which last week abandoned plans to incorporate historic Public Auditorium into the project.
But the radical departure means county officials must renegotiate their tentative land deal with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and win approval from City Council members, some of whom are publicly questioning MMPI's motives and calling for public hearings.
"I'm very surprised and very disappointed," Councilman Michael Polensek said this week. "One of the reasons I voted on this was the restoration of Public Auditorium. . . The bait-and-switch thing, it really troubles me."
We like Polensek, but if he's surprised by this then he really hasn't been paying attention. Scene's April ’09 report on the history of this deal ("How We Got Screwed") noted that:
The deal was meticulously arranged to sidestep the law against using sales-tax increases to fund convention centers. Score another one for Hagan and [MMPI head Chris] Kennedy. And there was the jettisoning of competitive bidding, something governments typically are required to perform when spending large sums of public money. MMPI not only didn't have to compete for this deal, it will be allowed to choose its favorite contractors without issuing requests for proposals. [County negotiator Fred] Nance says this was worked out to save time.
Yeah, time spent answering questions from the
rubes Cuyahoga County residents who are picking up the tab. Like the citizen who attended the commissioners' voted, a self-described "nobody" who stood up to ask: "How can the county sign an agreement that guarantees more than $925 million in payments to a private company for a project that has no specific design, no plan, no final site, no schedule, no budget, no cost projections, no cost limitations and no guaranteed benefit to the citizens?"
That rhetorical question qualified "Nobody" to compete for smartest guy in the room that day. But he got no meaningful answer, of course — this project is Commissioner Tim Hagan's baby, and Hagan's not big on explaining himself. And now that MMPI is altering the deal because — well, because who's gonna stop them? — Hagan is once again telling us all we might as well lie back and enjoy it. From the PD:
"You can't force them to do anything," said Hagan, a longtime friend of the Kennedy family and MMPI President Chris Kennedy. "They can just pick up and go home.
Yeah? If you'll promise to go with them, Tim, I'll help you pack.
It's hard to say what's really going on here, and we can't rule out the possibility that MMPI is laying the groundwork for backing out. The primary justification for this entire deal has always been the Clinic factor. As Nance put it back in April, "We are marrying our community strength, our preeminence in health care ... with the best mart operator in the country …" The problem is, there never was much evidence to support the notion that healthcare types will flock here just because we have big-ass hospitals with international name recognition. And just this week the Chicago Tribune reported that "A premier medical trade show is dropping Chicago for its 2012 gathering and heading to Las Vegas instead."
This deal is getting worse all the time. — Frank Lewis