Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Medical mart vision unveiled for Nashville Convention Center
$250M facility at redesigned building is billed as magnet for jobs, visitors By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • December 1, 2009 Nashville's existing convention center could become a 15-story medical trade center buzzing with health-care innovations and brimming with visitors — and steering some business to a new convention hall. Dallas-based Market Center Management Co. plans to spend $250 million to redesign the 22-year-old facility. The proposal includes adding 12 stories on top of the convention center to create about 2 million square feet of exhibit space, company executives and city and state officials announced Monday. The repurposed building would house a medical mart showcasing more than 600 health-care companies' products and technology. Market Center Management Co., part of Crow Holdings, wants to create the world's first year-round medical trade show and estimated it would create 2,700 jobs and bring in 150,000 visitors a year. "Anybody who has health care as a customer base, we think they'll want to be here," said David Osborn, a Nashville-based senior adviser to the company. Cleveland and New York City are working on similar projects. But Market Center President and CEO Bill Winsor said he thinks the industry will support only one, and Nashville's position as a health-care business hub will give it an advantage. The plan, which Gov. Phil Bredesen called "a big deal," depends on several factors. Market Center needs to sign enough leases with companies that want space to display their products. It typically pre-leases 65 percent to 70 percent of the space before starting construction, which it hopes to do by the end of next year so it could open for business in 2013, Winsor said. Plan could be leverage Also, the Metro Council would have to approve a new, $585 million convention center nearby, then sign off on a reuse of the existing convention hall. Mayor Karl Dean's administration could use the trade center plan as leverage to try to convince council members skeptical about his convention center proposal that Nashville is attracting conventions, visitors and economic activity. Winsor said Market Center would want to use the proposed Music City Center for some medical conventions and trade shows. Nashville "is going to be the place to hold medical conventions after both of these projects are completed," Dean said. "This kind of blows it wide open in terms of saying we need to do this project, we need to do it now." Councilman Greg Adkins agreed, saying Market Center's plans show Dean's ambitions paying dividends. "You're already seeing the ripple effect of the new convention center," he said. But Councilwoman Emily Evans said the medical trade center makes more sense than a larger convention center at a time when the national supply of convention space is growing faster than demand. Nashville "is going to be the place to hold medical conventions after both of these projects are completed," Dean said. "This kind of blows it wide open in terms of saying we need to do this project, we need to do it now." Councilman Greg Adkins agreed, saying Market Center's plans show Dean's ambitions paying dividends. "You're already seeing the ripple effect of the new convention center," he said. But Councilwoman Emily Evans said the medical trade center makes more sense than a larger convention center at a time when the national supply of convention space is growing faster than demand. "That's more where the future is taking us than a traditional convention center," she said. "Private enterprise is leading the way and putting skin in the game. I don't think it necessarily follows that you build the convention center we've conceived, which is the old model." '2 distinct proposals' Dean plans to submit a convention center financing plan to the council Thursday for consideration in late January. Kevin Sharp, president of Nashville's Priorities, a group that's opposed to the convention center plan, said he thinks it's a mistake for Dean to use one project to push another. "I certainly hope that the mayor does not endanger this opportunity by attempting to tie it to the approval of his controversial convention center project because they are two distinct proposals," Sharp said in a news release Monday. Market Center would pay to expand the current convention center. Metro, which has fully paid for the convention center, probably would provide some financial assistance by reducing the company's property taxes or using them to help pay down debt, Dean said. The city doesn't get any property tax revenues from the building now. "It's safe to assume that there will be incentives involved," Dean told reporters. The city could continue to own the convention center and lease it to the company on a long-term basis — probably 30 years or more. In that scenario, Market Center would operate the building and make annual lease payments to the city. Matt Kisber, the state's commissioner of economic and community development, said the state would help with utility work and other necessary infrastructure improvements but would not provide direct financial assistance. The convention center now has 118,675 square feet of exhibit space. The building and the attached, 649-room Renaissance Hotel sit between Commerce Street and Broadway and between Fifth and Seventh avenues, surrounded by the Ryman Auditorium, the downtown arena, churches, parking garages and other buildings. Osborn said Market Center would move the wall of the convention center that faces Fifth Avenue back about 40 feet to create a plaza in front of the Ryman. Inside, the facility would feature permanent showrooms for 600 to 1,000 companies, creating what Bredesen described as a place for health-care providers to "comparison shop"; 120,000 square feet of temporary exhibit space for other companies and smaller trade shows; and a training and conference center. A broadcast center and public displays about healthy living are also possible.
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