Friday, January 2, 2009

Medical Mart: The mayor gets mad

I was going to blog today about Frank Jackson, The Quiet Mayor. But Jackson's on the Plain Dealer front page today, angrily asking what's going on with the Medical Mart project.

This is big news. For three years, Jackson has deferred to the Cuyahoga County commissioners on the convention center and Medical Mart. No more. After reading about the project's latest delay, he called the PD on New Year's Day to say the county didn't consult him and that he'll travel to Chicago to talk to the developer himself.

Jackson's declaration will surprise and impress the people who think he's a weak leader. It's the kind of dramatic big-stick moment that they long for from a mayor.

Surely the mayor is stepping up because he's lost confidence in the county commissioners. They've been promising for several months that they're this close to nailing down the Medical Mart deal. These days, Jimmy Dimora, waiting to see if the feds indict him, is saying little in public. He, Tim Hagan and Peter Lawson Jones have cast their fates with MMPI, so when the developer blows their "deadlines," they can't do much but ask for patience. Jackson senses he has to step in to save the project -- and keep the developer from cutting corners by building a too-small convention center.

It's been a year and a half since the commissioners voted to raise the sales tax to build the convention center and Medical Mart. The county has collected more than $50 million so far, but there's nothing to fund. The developer, MMPI, rejected the Greater Cleveland Partnership's recommendation to build it at Tower City, and it's doing its own study of the site and a downtown Mall location. As delays pile up, the county, its negotiator, and the developer are practically silent. Meanwhile, plans for a competing medical mart in New York City are moving forward.

If Jackson's trip to Chicago brings progress on the Medical Mart, reporters will call it a turning point for his first term. I'll write more about the mayor soon.

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