The Global Center for Health and Innovation, part of the $465 million dollar convention center project built with public money, has gone through various iterations since it was originally announced. It was to be a true medical mart at first, which was an odd idea to most. Who wanted to come shop for medical equipment in a glorified mall? That changed back in 2011 when Brian Casey, then GM of the project for MMPI, told Scene
that the facility would never work in that way. Instead, he wanted to treat it as an educational outlet, among other things. That, of course, was news to Ed FitzGerald, Toby Cosgrove and all the other power players involved.
The following years saw MMPI booted from the operation and SMG
, a company that runs a slew of convention centers around the country, selected by the county and other principle players as the new managing partner. MMPI was also in the midst of being sold off by parent company Vornado Inc.
The Globe, as folks tend to call it, has remained an unexamined bit of Cleveland taxpayer outlays in the meantime. Folks who work for the county and SMG will tell you that it's doing well, as the Plain Dealer's Susan Glaser parroted in a few stories last week
. It "holds promise," one article noted.
"Not every city pitches health care as much as we do," spokesman Dave Johnson told her. "It's one of our core strengths." (Dave Johnson, incidentally, informed staff this week that he is leaving his post associated with the Convention Center and Global Center.)
But is it a strength?
The answer, to the untrained eye, would be no, and further evidence of that is the recent arrival of Fred DeGrandis as Chief Administrative Officer/Managing Director of the Global Center for Health and Innovation. (Is this Med Mart 3.0?)
DeGrandis has deep ties to the medical community in Cleveland and was most recently a Senior VP at the Cleveland Clinic. (It's hard not to see Toby Cosgrove's influence here.) DeGrandis started his new job last week. Reached for comment yesterday, he declined an on-the-record interview, saying he wanted to talk to Dave Johnson first.
We did get in touch with Jeff Applebaum this morning, though. Applebaum not only handles legal affairs for the center for Thompson-Hines, but also has deep ties to the project through Project Management Consultants, a firm he founded that deals with any number of public and private projects around the country, including the Convention Center, Global Center, and the publicly-funded county Hilton hotel project that's currently underway.
While he says that everyone was happy so far with SMG and General Manager Mark Leahy, who technically runs both facilities, he notes that bringing someone with DeGrandis' deep medical ties into the fold was necessary.
"The Global Center was working very well, functionally and mechanically," Applebaum said. "When you think about the complex over there, you can divide everything into a few different quadrants. There's everything about running the Convention Center and the Global Center well, which is to say that it's well-managed and the services that are provided are provided well. It's all done in a first-class way. The building is managed well. It's neat and clean. The tenants are taken care of. Everything like that has been going extremely well. SMG runs a great building."
"They were doing and are doing a reasonable job in the Global Center, getting tenants in, etc. It's at 80 percent occupancy," he said. "The second thing you have to do is from a planning point of view. You have to plan a business development plan, figure out how to bring tenants and shows in, how to reach out to the community you seek to serve, developing business and sales, everything that SMG does well on the Convention Center side.
"One thing that we wanted to focus on was really outreach to the medical community, people in the medical community who want to be in that building, whether it's technology or information systems. You have all these tenants and there's got to be a real synergy as to how this interacts with the medical community. The one thing we wanted to do was enhance the management there so that it's integrated in the medical community, just to get everyone working together, so there are two things that have been action planned. First, to bring in that individual, and that is Fred, so he's been hired in that role. The second is to reactivate, basically, an advisory committee. An announcement on that will be coming soon."
Applebaum said DeGrandis will report to Mark Leahy. He also said it's something that those involved have been talking about "for awhile," and it's something that had been discussed during Ed FitzGerald's administration, but that they wanted to wait until the new administration and vet possible candidates. County Exec Armond Budish was heavily involved, he said.
"Getting to 80 percent occupancy is a recent thing," Applebaum said. "In just the last year, year and a half, many tenants just completed their buildout. If everyone goes into the building, and they have their leases for two or three years, and if the building doesn't develop the kind of synergy — and we're not saying it hasn't so far — but if it doesn't, and if in the next few years the medical community doesn't really adopt it, if they don't start bringing their events there, if there aren't a lot of events, if the current tenants don't see value, they are not going to renew their leases. It's not enough to just rent it out and have it there. There have to be programs, it has to be active, it has to work with the Convention Center. When the RNC comes, that building has to light up. People have to see it and understand it. Leasing is a critical component, but keeping it going and forward is too."