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Cuyahoga County weighing $50 million expansion to Global Center for Health Innovation

A rendering of an outdoor terrace at the Global Center for Health Innovation, with Downtown Cleveland buildings visible in the background.
Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland
A proposed expansion of the Global Center for Health Innovation would create an open-air terrace above an enlarged ballroom.

Cuyahoga County is considering a $50 million, publicly funded expansion to the Global Center for Health Innovation, as a key tourism official acknowledged the building fell short of its original promise as a medical hub.

Initially billed as the “medical mart,” the taxpayer-funded building was meant to become a multi-story showroom for health care technology when it was completed in 2013.

But that didn’t happen, Destination Cleveland CEO David Gilbert told a Cuyahoga County Council committee on Tuesday. The center has long struggled to fill office space with tenants.

“The majority of what that building was built for was a concept that now has shown it didn’t work,” he said. “That’s a fact. It is what it is.”

But that doesn’t mean the building has no future, Gilbert continued. The Global Center is part of the broader publicly owned complex that includes the Huntington Convention Center and Hilton Cleveland Downtown.

The suite of renovations, which Gilbert advocated for on Tuesday, would make the building more appealing to conference planners, he said.

“Three floors of that is currently largely unused and has the potential to generate revenue for the county and generate revenue for this community,” Gilbert said.

The expansion will add more staircases and escalators to the building’s main atrium, renderings presented to council show. The center’s ballroom would nearly double in size from 11,000 square feet to about 20,000, providing space for an open-air terrace on the second-floor rooftop above.

Planners are also considering a pedestrian skybridge linking the Global Center to the Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key Tower, roughly 100 feet to the south across St. Clair Avenue.

“Since before I came into Cleveland, this has been the talk, but these talks have reignited,” convention center general manager Ron King told council. “Having multiple hotel rooms connected to your convention center has become an industry standard.”

Connecting a second hotel to the convention center complex would be a prime selling point for attracting conferences, Gilbert said. Plus, in the winter months, conference-goers would be able to move from events to their hotel without having to don coats, he said.

Although some members voiced support for a bridge, council balked for the moment at committing $5 million to build it. But council did move the broader package of expansion spending forward to a second reading.

“I get a lot of people that tell me that the medical mart was a disaster and we shouldn’t be throwing good money after bad and don’t put any more money into this,” Councilman Dale Miller said. “But I don’t think that’s the right question. I think the right question is, from where we are right now, what is the best way that we can take advantage of the opportunities that we do have that present themselves at this time?”

Cuyahoga County would sell about $31 million in bonds to support the construction. The county would also contribute $8 million from its general fund, of which $5 million originally came from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation.

Another $1.4 million would come from the convention center’s naming rights deal. Also part of the funding mix is $9 million in county money set aside for capital improvements by the nonprofit that manages the convention center.

Council members asked whether the expansion was truly necessary, to which Gilbert replied the work was “a cross between a need and a want.”

Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell, who voted against moving the legislation forward, asked whether advocates of the expansion had broached the pedestrian bridge with Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration. The city planning commission would have to sign off on any bridge.

Jeffrey Appelbaum, the Thompson Hine partner who has long advised the county on major Downtown projects, said there have been discussions with the city.

Councilwoman Cheryl Stephens, who is also the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor this year, also voted against the proposal in committee.

A final vote on the funding package is expected Sept. 13.

Nick Castele is a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media.