by Steven Hale
Over at WPLN, Blake Farmer reports that Mayor Karl Dean sounds like he's just about given up on the so-called med mart, which was to take over the city's old convention center. But with the new Music City Center reportedly less than a year from completion, the three-year-old idea that is the Nashville Medical Trade Center has hardly gotten off the ground.
The Dallas-based developer has continued to periodically announce new tenants, though not enough to start construction.
Mayor Karl Dean has been a cheerleader, participating in multiple press events over the years. But now he’s entertaining other options.
“At some point we just have to keep moving forward. And if things work out, that’s great. I hope they do because I think it’s a wonderful idea and it makes a ton of sense. They went through some real tough times through the depths of the recession working on it. But we’ve got to be open to anything that people want to discuss.”
That's about where Dean was in May, when he sat down for an extensive interview with The City Paper.
He was asked then for an update on where the project stood, where he stood in terms of his feelings about the project, and at what point the city would have to move on:
One of the things when Music City Center was pitched was that there would be some sort of redevelopment of the current convention center, and the Medical Mart project was put forward. Music City Center is a big hunk of our skyline now, and there’s nothing done with Med Mart. How much longer before we see real progress on it?
A couple of things ... Med Mart is basically where it’s been in the sense that they have to sign enough leases to make it a financially doable deal for them. The city has no agreements with them. No anything. So we don’t have to do the Med Mart. I can tell you that there is a lot of interest in that property from a lot of different businesses. It’s some of the most valuable property in the city, and of all the things that keep me awake at night, worrying about if we’re going to be able to successfully develop that corner is not one of them. I can tell you that another consideration that needs to be discussed is that we need it for a convention center for a while. We cannot legally say we’re not going to use it as a convention center because we’ve got an agreement with the Renaissance Hotel [adjoining the current center] that we’re going to operate a convention center for some time. For us to do anything is going to involve resolving that issue. And we’ve got conventions booked beyond the opening of the new convention center.
I don’t feel the pressure. I feel that because the economy has turned, and Nashville’s kind of a hot city right now, we’re getting lots of inquiries and there’s lots of possibilities, and for us it’s just making sure what the right thing is.
It sounds like you’re open to other things besides just the Med Mart.
The bottom line is we’re going to do the best thing for the city of Nashville, whatever road we go down. I believe that the Med Mart folks have a good concept, but at some point you have to execute. I don’t feel cornered in. I really don’t.
When is the point that they have to execute?
It’s pretty flexible. What I mean is, we don’t have an agreement. I don’t have to do anything other than find the deal that makes the most sense. There are a lot of people that might be interested if we do A, B or C to help them get interested, and we might not want to do those things. And the Med Mart is a great idea. It would be a transformative thing for downtown if it happened. And there are other things that would be appealing, too. We’ve agreed to give them time, and we’ll just see how it goes. But like I said, we have an obligation to run a convention center for some time, and we can’t go off and start tearing down that building this year. It would be legally wrong, and we’ve got parties coming in for conventions.
Farmer also reports that Dean says the Renaissance Hotel has expressed an interest in taking over some space in the old convention center.