New Medical Trade Center a 'win-win' for downtown

Friday, January 28, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 4
By Joe Morris

Even as the Music City Center takes shape near Lower Broadway, the fate of the site it replaces is being decided with little public fanfare.

As it is phased out by the new facility, the Nashville Convention Center is on track to become the Nashville Medical Trade Center, a combination of open-daily exhibit and office space for healthcare-related businesses and suppliers.

The plan to convert the existing building into a mart was proposed more than a year ago, and began to pick up steam when the Metro Council approved the new convention facility on nearby land.

Even though it would add 12 stories to the current convention center, at $250 million, the project is less than half the cost of its new neighbor. It also would be privately financed, as opposed to the public financing of the Music City Center.

That is seen as a positive by proponents, who tout two other strong incentives:

• Capitalizing on Nashville’s strong healthcare industry

• Keeping the existing site as a viable meeting and exhibit space that can tie in with the Bridgestone Arena and Music City Center to provide millions of square feet of almost contiguous exhibit space.

And then there’s Nashville’s location, which has long been promoted as central to most of the country’s business and travel market by local tourism and economic-development officials. That’s what first drew the attention of those who are shepherding the project.

“The idea for a medical trade center has been discussed within our company for about 25 years,” says Cole Daugherty, vice president of communications for Market Center Management Co. of Dallas, which will manage the facility and along with its owner, Crow Holdings, owns or manages trade centers and tradeshows in Asia, Europe and the United States.

“We have long recognized the advantages of a centralized, efficient location for healthcare products, services and education. When the new convention center was announced we began extended conversations with industry and city leaders that led us to the conclusion that Nashville was quite simply the best location in the United States for a medical trade center.”

Early plans call for a renovated facility that will have three main sections:

• As many as 1,200 permanent manufacturer showrooms for healthcare-product manufacturers, distributors and information-technology companies

•200,000 square feet of temporary trade-show space

• Conference facilities which will hold a running slate of education and training events annually.

If all goes according to plan, which is to say there’s enough interest in leasing space, the center would open in 2013 along with the Music City Center. And while officials aren’t talking about any magic number or deadline they need to hit — earlier announcements have said that 65 percent to 70 percent of the facility would need to be pre-leased to obtain financing — they insist that interest in the facility is running high.

“We have been making steady progress on several fronts,” Daugherty says. “The project continues to evolve.

“We recently announced a global business development center that will serve as a turnkey solution for international companies seeking efficient entry into the U.S. healthcare marketplace. Likewise, we are holding continuing discussions with organizations and institutions that want to participate, and we have traveled the world meeting with major manufacturers helping them determine the best way to join the trade center.”

That 5,000-square-foot development center will be anchored by mdi Consultants Inc., a New York-based firm offering business-development services for domestic and international healthcare companies.

Another early entrant into the NMTC is the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, or HIMSS, which will be taking another anchor-tenant slot. According to its officials, the organization sees Nashville as a viable outpost for its operations, and the center as good fit for its current and future efforts.

“HIMSS has business offices in Washington, Ann Arbor, Brussels, Leipzig and Singapore. However, the Nashville Medical Trade Center would be the first permanent facility where HIMSS would present healthcare information technology products, demonstrating their use and capabilities,” says H. Stephen Lieber, president and CEO of HIMSS.

“HIMSS presents this type of technology showcase at its major educational venues around the globe, but those are all temporary demonstrations. Locating in the Nashville Medical Trade Center will provide an excellent opportunity for visitors to the center to see the best information technology available today, from multiple companies and in one place.”

The permanent showcase also will be of benefit to health information technology companies by providing an ongoing, permanent laboratory to continuously test their products’ compatibility with other companies’ products,” Lieber adds.

To date, government and trade organizations in more than 10 countries have expressed interest in the center, according to Market Center Management, which says that the center will draw at least 160,000 industry visitors annually.

And the company is being aided in its push by the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, which sees the center as a natural extension of the Music City Center, says Butch Spyridon, president.

“We talk to them regularly, and are anxious for the center to be confirmed,” Spyridon says. “It opens up a whole new area of meetings for us. It’s a new property that we don’t have to run, just sell. It fills room nights; it keeps a consistent, year-round flow of business coming in and has some clients and leases that have indicated they would bring meetings. There’s definitely some synergy between us, and we see them being there as a big advantage for Nashville.”

The center also can count on the Tennessee Hospitality Association to do its part.

“It’s a win-win situation for us, because it brings in a very upper-end traveler, as well as many international travelers that will help all the hotels,” says Greg Adkins, the THA’s chief executive officer. “It will help the Downtown Renaissance Hotel, which is connected to it, as well as all the other properties in the area.”