Global Center for Health Innovation leaders want $30M renovation to convert facility into convention center extension

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The board that oversees the taxpayer-funded Global Center for Health Innovation wants to spend $30 million to revamp the building into an extension of the attached Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland.

The work would be done in two phases – a $10-million portion that would improve accessibility in the building and a $20-million second phase to remake the upper floors into convention space.

The Convention Facilities Development Corporation, the body that oversees the two facilities on behalf of Cuyahoga County, wants Cuyahoga County to pay $5 million toward the first-phase of renovations. The other $5 million would come from $12 million in reserves the Global Center and convention center has set aside.

Officials on Friday did not discuss how the second, pricier portion of the plan would be paid for.

What’s the plan?

The preliminary plan — one year in the making and discussed Friday by the Convention Facilities Development Corporation — calls for the first phase to begin by spring 2021. Work on the second phase would occur sometime thereafter.

The work would give the Global Center a new image for the second time since it opened in 2013 as the Medical Mart, a showcase space for medical technology and a concept that never reached its full potential.

The $465-million Global Center and convention complex is being paid for with a quarter-cent increase of the sales tax approved in 2007.

The facility in 2018 transitioned to a largely healthcare-focused workspace, but that concept never reached its full potential either — occupancy languished and officials in November 2019 announced they’d be pursuing a new concept.

CS&L International, commissioned by the Convention Facilities Development Corporation to do the year-long review, recently concluded that $30 million in renovations could transform the Global Center into an extension of the convention center.

What’s at stake?

The convention center needs more meeting space to help it better compete with facilities across the country, officials said. The Global Center, with 34,600 square feet of event space and its airy, naturally lit design, would be ripe for such a purpose, they said.

Economic activity generated by the convention center between 2017 and 2019 averaged about $90 million a year, according to the review.

Without more meeting space and other improvements, CS&L concluded that the average number of events held at the convention center each year could decline by 10%. CS&L estimated that would lead to a decline in spending by conference attendees at Cleveland restaurants, hotels and other businesses. Such a decline would result in $81 million in annual economic activity, CS&L found.

Comparatively, renovating the Global Center could boost convention center activity and generate about $110 million annually in local economic activity, the CS&L review found.

What does Cuyahoga County say?

The plan — and the $5 million request for county taxpayer funding to complete the first part of renovation work — has already been pitched to Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and County Council President Dan Brady, but they have yet to make a decision, Jeff Appelbaum, attorney for Convention Facilities Development Corporation, said Friday.

Budish is reviewing the plan and has not decided whether he supports it, a Budish spokesman told and The Plain Dealer.

Brady on Friday said he supports the plan, as well as the use of $5 million in county funds, which would be subject to council approval.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve tried to do [with the Global Center] has not been working and I think the space is better used to boost the convention center’s future business,” Brady said.

What would the two phases of work entail?

The $10-million first phase would include adding escalators between the Global Center’s atrium and second and third floors, expanding restrooms, and adding or expanding staircases.

Such changes are needed because the Global Center was not built to accommodate large groups of convention-goers moving through the building, Appelbaum said.

The second, $20-million phase would involve reconfiguring rooms on the facility’s upper floors to better suit them for conference use. Changes could include upgrades to audio visual and electrical equipment, which are features increasingly in demand among event planners, according to the CS&L review.

When could work start?

The first phase of renovation work could begin by spring 2021, Appelbaum said. Global Center leadership hopes to select an architect to prepare conceptual plans by early December, and a firm to design and build the project by January, Appelbaum said.

A quick start could allow much of the work to be completed while the Global and convention centers remain largely unoccupied due to the coronavirus pandemic, Appelbaum said. Management is currently expecting conventions and events to pick up sometime in the middle of next year.

Few tenants remain under lease in the Global Center. The Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court has rented several portions of the otherwise empty building from September through the end of 2020 for socially distanced jury trials.

Could the work be done more quickly?

Board member Joe Roman, president of regional chamber-of-commerce Greater Cleveland Partnership, said he’d prefer the board consider funding the entire $30 million project all at once. Otherwise, Roman said, plans for the second phase of renovations may fall through as time drags on.

“Getting these things done now would seriously position Cleveland’s convention center to take a major step forward,” Roman said. “We knew from the beginning we were undersized for meeting room [space].”

Appelbaum said he was concerned that such a plan could lead to delays in the first phase of renovation, meaning they couldn’t be completed while the Global Center remains largely empty due to the pandemic.

Board member and Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers said he backed the idea of getting the first portion of the work underway while plans and funding for the second phase of the renovation are being determined.

What’s in the future?

Sellers and board member Tim Offtermatt, vice president of finance for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, said the Global Center plans ought to be discussed alongside potential future plans for a convention center “campus,” an idea also contemplated by the CS&L review.

Such a campus could include a skybridge connector to the Cleveland Marriott hotel and the possible use of the city-owned Public Auditorium for additional complementary event space, among other ideas, according to the review. But such plans are not contemplated as part of the $30 million pitch currently being explored.

Read more about the Global Center:

Global Center for Health Innovation should be re-purposed as convention center extension, review finds

BioEnterprise, former promoter of Global Center for Health Innovation, double-billed Cuyahoga County and state taxpayers, audit finds

The many unanswered questions about the investigation into BioEnterprise’s work with Cuyahoga County’s Global Center for Health Innovation

Global Center for Health Innovation could pivot away from healthcare with departure of another major tenant

Global Health Center for Innovation losing its largest tenant

BioEnterprise will have $482,274 to turn around the struggling Global Center for Health Innovation

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