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Cleveland’s convention kabuki continues.

Fred Nance got it about right, Cleveland’s convention kabuki departed from traditional forms. “It wasn’t a well-choreographed play.”

Ad hochery never is.

But you couldn’t beat it for pure spontaneous entertainment.

MMPI and Chris Kennedy swiped Forest City’s tablecloth without moving a fork. The move left Nance drying his teeth in front of the cameras commenting on choreography.

The week started off with Scott Wolstein (taking a page out of dear old dad’s playbook) sticking it to Sam, Albert and the Tower City proposal: “I’m not sure the back-ass of Tower City is the center of the urban core.”


Then we learned that Joe Roman’s numbers were off slightly: $168 million or so on a $400 to 450 million project. (A miscue of 35% to 40% is a little more than a rounding error: that’s about what it cost to build the Jake.)

Perhaps unintentionally, Commissioner Jones took a backhand swipe at the Partnership’s analysis, which missed the core issue that the mall site could use the foundation of the old convention center: “The cost variable is so great, it was a no-brainer.”

That’s one way to put it. (Memo to Peter: Send note to Joe expressing regret and some mumbo jumbo about not taking “words out of context.”)

Meanwhile, Bruce Harris — pumped by the PD a few days earlier as a convention center maven — likely wished that he kept his views to himself: “This is not a difficult economic decision,” Harris told us about the Tower City site. Not difficult, that is unless you forget about the $168 million.

It didn’t stop with Partnership’s rubber numbers.

The logic of the MMPI analysis turns the Partnership siting report on its head. The mall site will be cheaper and faster than the Tower City site.

In one of the week’s sweet ironies, the Forest City representative was left to sputter about the lack of a public process. (News Flash: You could not find a public process in this mess with a two ton magnet.)

Time for a rewind: the City’s 1989 Master Plan recommended the mall site for a new convention center. This week — twenty years later — the County Commission reached to the same conclusion: The convention center should be where it already is.

So we have a thirty year old idea twenty years late.

Not so fast. Commissioner Hagan assures us that our project isn’t going to be just any old convention center: “If we were just building a convention center, we are competing with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Columbus. We’re talking specifically about medical conventions. That’s the unique difference here.”

OK. But what’s the difference between a medical mart and a showroom for bed pans? Where is the business plan for this medical mart? Aren’t you supposed to have this in hand before the County invests? (More ad hocery, I suppose.)

Anyone care to respond to Jay Miller’s article of 18 months ago?

  • Med mart plans not shaken by story of failed attempt
  • We are left with a stark truth: No one but Sam Miller and Albert Ratner stood to benefit by moving the convention center away from the mall. For twenty years they have been pursuing a Tower City pipe dream. They’ve been running roughshod over local leadership, and they have converted the Greater Cleveland Partnership into a Forest City promotion department.

    All this comes with a cost.

    It’s not too much to say that Tower City has become the project that ate Cleveland’s downtown.

    Over the course of these twenty years, the older generation of Forest City leadership (with complicity from compliant management at the PD, weak-kneed local politicos, and a cluelessly passive board at the Greater Cleveland Partnership) just about destroyed the civic process in this town.

    A new generation of leadership will now rebuild it. Here are some additional thoughts on a new path for Cleveland.

    Update from the Plain Dealer: Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan defends sudden decision on medical mart site

    Last 5 posts by Ed Morrison

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    13 Responses to “Cleveland’s convention kabuki”

    1. Jack Ricchiuto Says:

      I continue to be told by people who buy medical equipment around the country that they have 2 buying requirements, period: bring your toys to our house so we can test them on site (which the smart ones do) and make sure you bring lunch (which they also do). End of story.

    2. anastasia Says:

      Ed, did you mean that “you COULDN’T find public process with a two-ton magnet?”

      This latest move leaves me scratching my head. How did Forest City suddenly find itself flung outside the inner circle when, just earlier this week, project mouthpiece the Plain Dealer was lining up a flack like Bruce harris to spout the party line that the project absolutely, positively must be built at Tower City?

      Still, the problem goes back to the project’s very roots: no objective study done about whether this is the best, or even a slightly good, economic development vehicle for today’s economy, not that of 20 years ago. I was thinking about this very thing when I heard you speak recently at our Democratic City Club meeting about the networking structure of the new economy as opposed to the vertical orientation of the old structure (I was the one who asked you what the content of this new networking structure is supposed to be). Does a large, elaborate pile of bricks fit in anyway into this networking structure, or has the paradigm of building networks perhaps permanently rendered the concept of large regional convention centers obsolete. Much has changed in the 20 years since that first study, and it’s not just the economy: ways of doing business have changed irrevocably.

      I don’t feel like any groundwork has been done on whether there is even a place for such a project anymore, let alone a cost-benefit study or a site selection study.

    3. Carole Cohen Says:

      “I’m not sure the back-ass of Tower City is the center of the urban core.”
      I would paraphrase and say I’m sure it’s not the right place for the Med Mart/Convention Ctr.

      The business plan, well, we have to assume it doesn’t exist because the two ton magnet never whizzed it out of their hands and onto the purty Planning Commission website. You know, bells, whistles, plans, but never any updating or further transparency, like, ‘guess what, the conv ctr is now tied into a Med Mart.’

      I scratch my head too, only for me, it’s that the Obama organization can get a website up and running (ok it still might be a Potemkin village or all smoke and mirrors but) where you know what is initially planned and where you can comment – all the many millions of us. And yet our own planning department, and city government, can’t get with the transparency program.

      Maybe they think transparency is a buzz word. In reality it promotes participation. They couldn’t possibly mind that, could they?

    4. Ed Morrison Says:

      lmcshane: Ed, did you mean that “you COULDN’T find public process with a two-ton magnet?”

      Thanks! Corrected.

      This latest move leaves me scratching my head. How did Forest City suddenly find itself flung outside the inner circle when, just earlier this week, project mouthpiece the Plain Dealer was lining up a flack like Bruce Harris to spout the party line that the project absolutely, positively must be built at Tower City?

      You can analyze this decision from a number of different perspectives. Perhaps the one most valuable is ethnicity. These factors have driven urban politics since the rise of urban machines starting in the 1870s.

      A lot of this has to do with who controls the neighborhood. On one side you have Irish Catholics. On the other side, Russian Jews. The two groups don’t mix very well. MMPI, I think, just decided they did not want to do business with Forest City. Or, you can see this on a personal level as Tim Hagan turning his back on Sam and Albert. In some ways, it’s as simple as that.

      I don’t feel like any groundwork has been done on whether there is even a place for such a project anymore, let alone a cost-benefit study or a site selection study.

      This is the core problem. A solid civic process needs to be built on facts. There is no solid basis of fact underlying this project.

      The network approach to economic development — Open Source Economic Development — includes physical development as one dimension of investment. (In this model there are five dimensions on which to focus.)

      Read more about Open Source Economic Development:

      Carole Cohen:

      Maybe they think transparency is a buzz word.

      If they do, they’re toast.

    5. George Nemeth Says:

      It’s utterly embarrassing that the decision to go with the existing site took as long as it did. Instead of spending all that time jacking around in front of each other and the media, someone should have rolled up their sleeves and went to work. The thing would have been half way done by now.

    6. John Polk Says:

      At least no one can say any longer that the siting decision hasn’t been made. The Commissioners should be commended for taking action to get the project moving. They made their decision in the face of enormous pressure, and if the economics of the MMPI study hold water (bet they do), supported by a compelling economic advantage of one site over another. Smart people can (and will) remain intensely skeptical about both the project and the process, and there’s plenty of soap opera ahead. But the easy (and politically expedient) thing to do would have been to continue to dither, but the Commissioners chose to DO something.

    7. Jill Says:

      For me, the most infuriating part of all this is how most if not all of us commenting and writing and trying to keep track of the process, such as it is, did or could have told others, back in July 2007, that this is PRECISELY how it would go down as far as who is zooming who. That lack of surprise for this relationship/communication silliness is what really, really angers me.

      And the fact that it so does not have to be this way! Just does not.

    8. Ed Morrison Says:

      John, George, Jill:

      If history is any guide, this deal is not done…yet. Hagan seems to have all the elements in place: a project with a budget of about $400 million; a developer, tax revenue to fund the project; and one additional vote on the Commission.

      In the past, though, when faced with the game going against them, Sam and Albert simply threw the game board in the air and yelled “Do over!”. These folks, sadly, demonstrate a meanness close to madness. I expect some more moves.

    9. J Anderle Says:

      Just curious. I don’t normally participate but this Medical Mart process is really stunning…Is there a running tab somewhere on the amount of money spent on consultants, etc. to figure out where to put this thing. It would be interesting, but probably depressing, to graph the last 20 years of high level consulting and spending.

    10. George Nemeth Says:

      I had breakfast with a colleague Friday, whose question was “Is Sam Miller happy with the job the commissioners have been doing?” Nobody’s asked them that I know of.

    11. anastasia Says:

      So if Sam Miller’s NOT happy, then what does that mean, George? I still can’t shake the feeling that this sudden announcement is another move in a game whose rules we’re not privy to, even though we will be paying for it forever.

    12. George Nemeth Says:

      If Sam Miller isn’t happy, someone’s campaign won’t get funded.

    13. John Polk Says:

      I have no doubt the psychodrama isn’t over till the holes are dug…and this being Cleveland, probably not then…But at least things are moving…

      Now I read that the MMPI deal may provide the company with an opt-out in the event that, come August, they think it can’t practically be done…Apparently the company had the radical notion to gauge the market need for a medical mart-type facility…which if you’re a smart company (and on the hook for over-runs)it’d sort of be nice to know…and given the credibility issues which may arise regarding existing research, they’d probably want to do the analysis themselves…