The new Cleveland Convention Center and Global Center for Health Innovation already are making healthy contributions to the region’s economy, the project’s leader told the Akron Roundtable on Thursday.
Already, booked conventions and trade shows in the 750,000-square-foot convention center that opened in June are expected to generate more than $170 million in direct spending throughout Northeast Ohio, said James Bennett, senior vice president of Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., the developer of the project in downtown Cleveland.
The money includes spending by convention attendees on hotel rooms, meals, shopping, travel and entertainment.
“The convention center is off to a terrific start,” he said.
Bennett was the featured speaker Thursday during the monthly Akron Roundtable luncheon speaker series at Quaker Station in downtown Akron.
During his talk, Bennett gave a history of the project, which started in 2005 when Cleveland Clinic President and Chief Executive Dr. Toby Cosgrove met with city and county leaders to propose the idea of a “medical mart” in Cleveland.
Two years later, the county enacted a quarter of a cent sales tax to fund the $465 million construction of a new convention center in downtown Cleveland and an adjacent Medical Mart.
The Medical Mart — recently renamed the Global Center for Health Innovation — allows hospitals, companies, agencies and others in the health-care industry to lease space to showcase their products, ideas and advances.
Bennett acknowledged the Medical Mart concept had its share of skeptics as the project faced challenges along the way.
But several major tenants already are occupying the facility, including anchor tenant Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), which was planning to go to Nashville before a similar project there fell through.
The center also has a welcome center, health and wellness theater, displays by Cleveland hospitals, a mock home showcasing state-of-the-art products to help aging Americans stay safely in their homes, and product displays by General Electric, Cardinal Health, Johnson Control and others.
The center has commitments for about 80 percent of the space, including plans for a simulation center for Case Western Reserve University, Bennett said. None of the Akron hospitals are leasing space so far, although they have been asked.
The Global Center for Health Innovation officially opens to the public in February, but a preview open house was held last week. Bennett said the goal is to attract 50,000 visitors a year.
He said he envisions the center as an “Epcot” attraction, with educational opportunities, interactive displays and a theater for the community, not just those in the health-care industry.
“They own it,” he said of area taxpayers. “They paid for it. It’s their place.”
Next month’s speaker will be Amy Freitag, executive director of the New York Restoration Project, who will talk about “building a resilient city” at noon Nov. 21. Tickets are $20.
For more information, visit www.akronroundtable.org.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or email@example.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.