Monday, April 19, 2010

TN economic chief recruits for medical trade center

Matt Kisber helps fill trade center space planned at Nashville Convention Center site By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • April 19, 2010 When a Dallas-based company recruits tenants for a $250 million medical trade center being planned for downtown Nashville, the state's top economic development official sometimes helps out with the sales pitch. Matt Kisber, Tennessee's commissioner of economic and community development, has joined Market Center Management Co. executives several times when they've met with potential tenants. Kisber said Reagan Farr, the state revenue commissioner, has also made some of the trips. "I see this as very similar to a corporate headquarters," Kisber said in an interview Thursday. "It brings with it a substantial amount of related activity. We're always working to identify the ancillary companies that would need to be in close proximity to that corporate headquarters." Kisber and Bill Winsor, Market Center's CEO, declined to name the companies they had visited or even the cities they had traveled to. Market Center plans to turn the three-story Nashville Convention Center into a 15-story medical mart where hospitals and other health-care companies can comparison shop for beds, technology and other products. Nashville is building a new convention center nearby; it's scheduled to open in 2013. Before it can start construction at the existing convention hall, Market Center needs to pre-lease 65 percent to 70 percent of the planned space. Winsor said the company plans to have that done by the fall. The facility is expected to feature permanent showrooms for 600 to 1,000 companies. Winsor likened the showrooms to "corporate marketing headquarters." Lease terms will depend on the size of the space and the number of years a company commits to but will be similar to rates for the best office space downtown. "And the early movers probably will get a better rate," Winsor said. He declined to say what percentage of the space has been pre-leased since Market Center, Gov. Phil Bredesen and Mayor Karl Dean announced the plan on Nov. 30. But he said it was important to have the Department of Economic and Community Development's help. "They've agreed to accompany us on some calls," Winsor said. "Having the support of the state and Metro on something of this significance is critical." Pitch includes jobs Kisber and his staff also have provided less time-consuming assistance in some cases, like giving Market Center the right contacts at health-care companies. When Kisber travels with Market Center, he talks about the concentration of such companies in Tennessee, especially Nashville, and urges executives to bring other jobs here along with their showroom operations. "This project is for Nashville, in my opinion, similar to a megasite in other parts of the state," he said. "It has the opportunity to seriously transform economic activity in the metro Nashville area." Dean's administration expects to become much more involved in bringing the project to fruition once the pre-leasing activity reaches critical mass. Dean aides and Market Center executives have already talked in general terms about a lease of the current convention center building, but negotiations won't get serious for a few more months, Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said. "We're sort of on standby to help any way we can," he said. "They're completely focused right now on lining up tenants." Winsor said Market Center will have some announcements soon about the companies buying showrooms. He said he hasn't asked Kisber to make any more trips yet. But Kisber said he's not surprised when things come up. "I'm sure I will be doing more of these," he said.

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