Cuyahoga County taxpayers footing the bill for the Med Mart and convention center have long been assured that adequate performance standards are built into the contract with project developer MMPI. But it turns out it would take a near-catastrophic failure on the part of MMPI before the county could withhold rent payments or find a new developer.
To meet the contract terms, MMPI needs only to keep convention attendance at levels the old convention center maintained between 1994 and 1999, and make sure enough people stay overnight to keep one 100-room hotel mostly full.
Although a 2005 PriceWaterhouse Coopers study projected that a new convention center would generate 125,000 booked hotel nights each year, MMPI is expected to total only 35,000 hotel nights, for example.
“This has a lot more hole than cheese,” says convention center expert and analogy whiz Heywood Sanders, a professor at the University of Texas, San Antonio, and the guy who has depantsed convention-center projects around the country. “If I were MMPI, I would probably want to structure performance standards that I could meet under any circumstance. And that’s what they did.”
But according to Jeff Appelbaum, the county’s point man for the project, the low performance levels stated in the contract are “default levels that trigger remedies only if all of them are unmet.”
“It has nothing to do with projections,” says Applebaum, adding that the contract terms were vetted by national experts who agreed they were appropriate. “These are draconian measures. The expectations are much higher.”
MMPI has said all along that it plans to far exceed the contract performance benchmarks and expects to bring 300,000 visitors to the city annually, only some of whom would be MMPI executives picking up their checks.
In other words: You, dear taxpayer, are on the hook for $465 million worth of expectations. Good luck with that.