Wednesday, April 29, 2009

County gives Jackson ultimatum: Sell convention center or else

Check out WKYC's report from Tuesday night about the city and county's intense negotiations about the convention center site (video above, video and text version here). Mayor Frank Jackson, quiet for most of the Medical Mart/convention center debate, is taking a tough stand in negotiations with the county. Jackson wants the county to pay $25 million for the current convention center and Public Hall.

The county commissioners say $17.5 million is their final offer. If they don't get it by Friday, they say they'll consider other sites. No, not Tower City -- several sites near University Circle. (I think this likely means the Cleveland Play House property on Carnegie.)

Jackson is also standing up for Positively Cleveland, insisting its budget not be slashed and diverted to the Medical Mart. (See my coverage of this issue here and here.) Tom Beres, WKYC's political reporter, asked Tim Hagan about it, and Hagan sounds ready to gut the convention and visitor's bureau. "Positively Cleveland is not as important to the future of this community as a new convention center with a Medical Mart," he tells Beres.

Positively Cleveland's Dennis Roche, making the case for his organization, warns Cleveland could end up like Colorado, which lost a third of its tourism after eliminating its tourism bureau. A representative of a Gateway hotel says cutting the bureau's budget would be "very stupid." The commissioners might also vote to raise the tax on hotel rooms from 4.5% to 6.5%.

On tonight's 7 p.m. broadcast, WKYC reported another idea has come up in negotiations: the city might keep Public Hall, and the new project could stretch west instead -- to the site of the county administration building.

This may just be a negotiating stance or ploy, or a serious way to cut the selling price. If the county or city are serious about the idea, it'd open up two huge issues:

-The county would move to a new headquarters -- reigniting the debate about where it should move and whether it can afford another big new project. See my June 2008 article "Tower Play," about the Ameritrust Tower, which showed that constructing a new county building would add millions of dollars a year to the cost of government.

-MMPI has said it can start booking trade shows into a renovated Public Hall within a year of starting the project. That, it has argued, is key to being "first to market" -- getting a Cleveland Medical Mart going before a possible competitor in New York City opens. Leaving Public Hall out of the project would eliminate that competitive advantage.

Update, Thu. a.m.: In today's Plain Dealer, Jones confirms the Cleveland Play House is an alternate site. The story says the county administration building could become part of the Mall site for the project if negotiations for the private property south of it fall through. (That fits what I've been hearing.)

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