Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dimora wants to move county offices for Med Mart

Scene writer Dan Harkins sat in on the county commissioners' testimony to Cleveland City Council on Monday, and he plucked out the biggest news from the friendly questioning and unanimous vote for the convention center site sale.

Jimmy Dimora wants to move the county offices to make room for the Medical Mart.

“The best way to go,” asserted Dimora, “is to locate the [new convention center] entranceway where the county administration building is and let the [landowner of adjoining property, who’s holding out for a better deal] negotiate with potential hotel developers in the future. And then we could actually take up one of your other empty buildings in town to locate our 1,500 or 1,600 employees and consolidate and hopefully save some money.”

I wrote about this possibility earlier this month, here and here. "Hopefully" save some money is right. On one hand, taxpayers shouldn't want the county to pay super-high prices for the land on St. Clair Avenue, the first-choice site for the Medical Mart and the convention center entrance. On the other hand, they also need to watch carefully to see whether the county's move would really save money.

The commissioners embarked on their ill-fated plan to move to the Ameritrust Tower site on the mistaken belief it would pay for itself. My June 2008 story, "Tower Play," showed it actually would've added millions of dollars a year to the cost of government.

This new move, if it happens, should be cheaper than the Ameritrust plan. By leasing new offices, the county might be able to break even on annual office expenses. (See this Plain Dealer story for how.) But it might end up paying more. I doubt the county would save money by moving. To do that, it would have to lease office space for 1,500 people for less than $5 million a year.

Also, if Dimora and Hagan are still on the commission when this move comes, I'll want to know if they're even willing to lease. If they still want to buy and own the county's new offices, as they did in 2005, that might cost more.

Also, the one-time cost of moving expenses would be in the millions. The county may be better off waiting to move until Cleveland sees whether the Medical Mart prospers.

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