$250 million medical mart to be built in Nashville

AP News
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Posted: Nov 30, 2009 5:25 PM

Market Center Management Co. on Monday announced plans to build and operate a $250 million Nashville Medical Trade Center on the site of the city's existing convention center that officials say could create 2,700 jobs.

The company plans to build a 12-story structure on top of the largely underground facility that would become available if the Metro Council approves the construction of a new $585 million convention center just blocks away. A vote is expected in the coming weeks.

Dallas-based Market Center Management is a subsidiary of real estate investment firm Crow Holdings. It also owns or manages market centers and trade shows in Shanghai, Brussels and Dallas.

"This project makes Nashville and makes Tennessee the global marketplace for health care equipment and technology and services," Gov. Phil Bredesen said at a news conference.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean noted that the tourism and health care sectors are among the city's top employers.

"The new convention center and this new facility play to our strengths and enhance our position as a major tourist (and) convention destination, and also as the health care capital of the world," he said.

Rival medical mart projects are being pursued in Cleveland and New York. Each would create a central place where makers of health care-related products and technology could feature offerings to buyers from the medical industry.

Bill Winsor, chief executive of Market Center Management, said he expects the Nashville mart to prevail as New York is too expensive and because "Cleveland, in our mind, is not a health care destination."

The Cleveland project would be operated by Chicago-based Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. County commissioners there in 2007 increased the sales tax by a quarter percentage point to help pay for the $425 million project.

Officials at New York's World Product Centre project say construction on a 60-story building in Manhattan should begin next year.

But Winsor said doesn't foresee multiple medical marts around the country.

"I don't think that the industry is going to accept more than one," he said.

Winsor said the Nashville project is contingent on signing pre-leasing agreements. The company usually sets a goal of filling between 65 percent and 70 percent of capacity before starting construction, he said.

"We have targeted companies that are leaders in the respective industry categories that we're going after," Winsor said. He declined to name any specific examples.

The medical mart is designed to house between 600 and 1,000 permanent tenants.

The company hopes to begin construction by late next year and have the facility open its doors about the same time as the new convention center in 2013.

Jeff Balser, vice chancellor for health affairs at Vanderbilt University, called the current system for procuring medical equipment "chaotic."

"It requires physicians, administrative leaders and purchasing officers to travel not just around the country, but around the world, to identify the new technologies," he said.

As Vanderbilt was preparing to open its new critical care tower, the school had to send experts to Cambridge, Mass., and Batesville, Ind., just to evaluate hospital beds.

"And that was just the beds," he said. "Imagine the hundreds and hundreds of technology decisions that had to be made in constructing that bed tower."

Bredesen, who founded and ran Nashville-based HealthAmerica Corp. before entering politics, said the a medical mart is overdue in the health field.

"In one place providers will be able to do something we consumers have taken for granted for years, which is to comparison shop," Bredesen said. "The end result will be smarter decisions on the part of physicians and hospitals and clinics, along with greater efficiency."