Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jones on Med Mart deal

Highlights of Peter Lawson Jones' comments about the Med Mart deal at the commissioners' meeting this morning:

Jones got very animated talking about why he thinks Cleveland needs a new convention center. "The current convention center is only 9 or 10% full," he said, because of its "dilapidated condition." Convention planners tell the county they'd book Cleveland if we build a new center. "We have more attractions than anyone in our competitive set: Cincinnati, Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Columbus," Jones said.

"The impediment is right there. Look out the window." Jones pointed outside to the Mall, at the current convention center. "That’s the problem."

The county should get its investment back in the first few years the mart and center are open, Jones said. MMPI has estimated the project could attract $1 billion a year in economic activity to Cleveland, he noted. "Let’s assume they’re only a fifth right," Jones said. "Then it will only take five years for us to get back our investment."

Other cities tried to court MMPI, adding pressure on the county negotiators, Jones revealed. Denver tried to get MMPI to build a Medical Mart and convention center there, he said. Echoing Nance's comment that MMPI is the country's best merchandise-mart operator, Jones defended the deal's price: "When you want the best, there’s a premium on that. You can’t get LeBron James for Larry Hughes’ money."

Jones said the county intends for 20% of the construction workers on the project to be Cleveland residents and for a "significant number" to be Cuyahoga County residents. He said the county will use "laws and the bully pulpit" to make sure minorities and local residents work on the project. MMPI "will adhere to our desires, whether expressed in rules and regulations or aspirations," he said.

He also said he believed the county has spent about $500,000 on the project so far, mostly for construction and convention-business consultants.

At about the six-minute mark of his 14-minute remarks, the often-wordy Jones said he was just getting started praising and defending the deal.

"Peter, I’ve got a bad heart," Hagan interjected mock-wearily.

"I’m trying to save you energy by making comments you might have made, and at a higher decibel level than I have," Jones replied with a smile.

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