The story of Cleveland’s Global Center for Health Innovation is almost as multifaceted as the products, services, and solutions offered by its myriad members. Even the organization’s name has twists and turns: Readers are more likely to recognize its original moniker, the Medical Mart.
The Global Center’s tale began in 1982 when a taskforce looked into the possibility of creating the healthcare equivalent of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart in the Old Post Office Building adjacent to Tower City Center. Key participants in this early-stage effort included Dr. William Kiser, M.D., chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Board of Governors; Albert Ratner of Forest City Enterprises; and Thomas King, James Bidwell, and Senator Edward M. Kennedy representing the Merchandise Mart. The project was curtailed when market studies found that the current economic climate could not support a shopping mall concept for healthcare products.
The project’s next phase unfolded in 1995 when Dr. Toby Cosgrove, then chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, visited Saudi Arabia, where an influential sheik told him that a medical mart and hotel would be built in Dubai. Fast forward to 2005 when Dr. Cosgrove—by then Cleveland Clinic president and chief executive officer—concluded that the time was right to reprise the Medical Mart idea. Shortly thereafter, Cosgrove was introduced to Chris Kennedy, then president of MMPI, a company that manages industrial showrooms across the country, including Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. Cosgrove and Kennedy discussed the project with Mayor Jane Campbell and her Chief of Staff Chris Ronayne. With their backing, the Cuyahoga County Commissioners, led by Tim Hagan, took the reins.
By 2008 the commissioners approved two relevant tax measures: The first—a quarter-cent countywide sales tax—would raise $425 million to construct a Medical Mart and rebuild the Cleveland Convention Center. The second measure was a 1 percent increase in the County bed tax. Combined with tenants’ rent payments, the latter source could be expected to cover the Mart’s and the Convention Center’s operating costs.
Cuyahoga County and MMPI signed a development agreement in April 2009. At this time, several locations were still in play, including the Mall, University Circle, and a plot behind Tower City Center. The County chose a site on the western edge of the Mall along St. Clair Avenue.
In January 2010 the County signed a construction agreement with MMPI. The following month LMN Architects of Seattle was chosen to design the facility. By August the Cleveland Planning Commission also approved a massive revamping of the downtown convention center. Like the previous facility, the new structure would be underground. But instead of a below-grade driveway ingress on the building’s side, the new structure would feature a grand entrance along Lakeside Avenue, with Mall B raised significantly along a south-north slope from St. Clair Avenue to Lakeside.
In late 2010 Cuyahoga County purchased the Cleveland Convention Center from the City of Cleveland for $20 million and finalized negotiations with the owners of five buildings slated for demolition at St. Clair and Ontario. The path now was clear to begin construction of the Mart and the Convention Center, which officially began on January 3, 2011.
Construction crews removed more than 500,000 tons of debris and demolished six buildings, including the old Cleveland Convention Center, Justice Center parking garage, the 113 office building, Sportsman Restaurant, Chicago Title, and the old County Annex building. More than 12,200 tons of steel—the most for any project in downtown Cleveland history—was then used to create the complexes’ infrastructures.
In October 2012 GE Healthcare Systems and Cleveland Clinic signed on as the Medical Mart’s first tenants. Four months later, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald announced that the facility would be formally named the Global Center for Health Innovation. MMPI then secured a lease from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), one of the largest medical organizations in America with more than 50,000 members. Like no other milestone, HIMSS’ commitment helped solidify the Center’s future—giving Cleveland a chance to become the epicenter of healthcare information technology.
Convention Center construction was completed in June 2013—just in time to host the highly successful National Senior Games. First Merit Bank purchased the naming rights to the Convention Center in 2015. In early 2016 Huntington Bank purchased First Merit and assumed the naming rights. The Global Center for Health Innovation opened in October 2013.
In late 2013 the county parted ways with MMPI and awarded a five-year management agreement to SMG, the nation's largest operator of convention centers. That same year, the Cuyahoga County Convention Facilities Development Corporation (CCCFDC) was formed to promote convention business, enhance county-wide economic growth, expand employment opportunities and promote tourism. CCCFDC also oversees SMG’s operation of the Convention Center and the Global Center for Health Innovation. In June 2016 the final leg of the stool was completed: A 600-room, 32-story Hilton hotel was built on Lakeside Avenue on land formerly occupied by the Cuyahoga County Administration Building.
Since its 2013 opening, the Global Center for Health Innovation has become a national focal point for healthcare advancements, conventions and industry conferences. Its tenants include 45 of the world’s leading healthcare brands and it hosts more than 300 industry meetings annually. The Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland already has hosted more than 600 events, including its role as the media center for the 2016 Republican National Convention. In 2016 alone, the complex logged 237 events and attracted more than 440,000 visitors.