Inside the construction site of Cleveland's new Medical Mart and Convention Center

Booking conventions and tenants for 2013 opening

CLEVELAND - Everyday, thousands of drivers pass the construction site at St. Clair Avenue and East 6 th Street in downtown Cleveland. From a big hole in the ground has risen a four-story structure that will house the Cleveland Medical Mart.

When Jim Bennett, newly-minted Senior Vice President for Medical Mart Properties Inc., looks at the building he sees the future with an admiring eye.

"The atrium in the Medical Mart is going to be one of the most stunning spaces anywhere, but certainly in Cleveland, and there is already a sense of the vistas and showroom space and how it will all fit," said Bennett.

Bennett joined the MMPI management team in April, and after more than 40 years as a business and non-profit leader and consultant, with deep knowledge of the health care industry, he has the combination of experience that the project concept requires. Filling the space in the Medical Mart, for example, is taking some finesse.

"We are managing themes in the building, information, technology, several others. We're working with those who've already signed leases and those about to, making sure the building is innovative, exciting, a place like no other in the country." Bennett also said the space is about 40 percent filled.

The skepticism that has followed the Medical Mart project from the beginning is understood.

"The Medical Mart is tricky. It has taken some art in blending to figure out how it can be as good as it can be, and we're getting there," Bennett said. "We're pretty optimistic about how it will turn out. I don't blame you for being skeptical if you saw all that investment as just in the Medical Mart, and weren't at the same time remembering that it gets us back into a very important part of the hospitality and tourist industry."

That's a message that is getting more emphasis as the project nears its completion in the summer of 2013.

"The real story here is the Cleveland Convention Center. It takes up three quarters of the space on the property and will have a real economic impact on downtown Cleveland. And what we're giving Cleveland as an ancillary benefit of the project is a new downtown park," Dave Johnson, director of MMPI public relations, said.

That green space, the new Mall B, will sit on top of the convention center. Bennett said there are already a dozen conventions or meetings booked for the first 13 months of operation, with many more in the pipeline.

Altogether, the convention and Medical Mart will encompass one million square feet - space where health care innovation, education and commerce will meet.

"I'm energized and excited by the engagement of the community, all parts I'm privileged to touch - health care, industry, political leaders - and by their excitement to make this work and the offers to help in very tangible ways," Bennett said.

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