Plans for $49M renovation, expansion of convention center revealed

Aerial view of the proposed expansion of the Cleveland convention center on Ontario Street.

An addition to the former Medical Mart, as part of its conversion to providing additional meeting and event spaces for the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, extends the ground-floor use converted to a ballroom out to Ontario Street, at left (TVS Design-Moody Nolan). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Plans under review by City Planning Commission

Plans for renovating, expanding and converting the ill-fated Global Center for Health Innovation into additional meeting and event spaces for the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland were made available to the public this week. They were released ahead of their scheduled review Thursday by the Cleveland Landmarks Commission. Those plans show the 120,000-square-foot former center, commonly referred to as the Medical Mart, would increase in size by more than 23,000 square feet so it could serve a new and hopefully more productive purpose.

Cuyahoga County Council voted 8-1 in September to spend $40 million to expand the ex-Medical Mart structure, incorporate it into the convention center, and thereby expand Cleveland’s convention facilities by more than 30 percent. The amount of meeting, event and pre-function space would increase from 410,000 square feet to roughly 553,000 square feet if the plans are approved.

Officials from the nonprofit Cuyahoga County Convention Facilities Development Corp., which oversees the convention center and Medical Mart, said the expansion is necessary because the existing facility is turning away business due to a lack of space. On the other hand, the former Medical Mart, built in 2013, was often empty and never achieved its promise as a marketplace for medical technology firms. After the planned expansion, the convention center would rise up to “the middle of the pack” of competing centers nationwide.

Convention center expansion on Ontario Street in downtown Cleveland.

The expanded ballroom added onto the Ontario Street frontage of the former Medical Mart is seen in this east-looking view from the northwest corner of Ontario and St. Clair Avenue (TVS Design-Moody Nolan).

That $49 million cost will be funded by $31 million in 20-year economic development revenue bonds, $9 million from a reserve fund of the nonprofit Cuyahoga County Convention Facilities Development Corp., $5 million in federal stimulus dollars, $3 million from the county’s general fund and $1.4 million from the private sector — proceeds from convention center naming rights.

However, one proposed feature to the center, a $5 million pedestrian walkway above St. Clair Avenue linking the former Medical Mart with the 28-story Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key Tower, was left out of the plans submitted to the city. Some county and city officials criticized the walkway as unnecessary and argued it would diminish pedestrian activity on downtown streets.

Plans up for review by the city’s Landmarks Commission show 82,600 square feet of the erstwhile Medical Mart would be renovated and 23,410 square feet of new ballroom space would be added. The proposed site for the addition is the open-air plaza along the east side of Ontario Street north of St. Clair. Portions of the plaza would remain as amenity spaces — public sitting areas and gardens — at the corner of those two streets and at the north side of the new addition, next to the 32-story Hilton Cleveland Downtown.

Site plan for Cleveland convention center expansion.

Site plan showing the addition of the ballroom where the outdoor plaza along Ontario Street is now. Portions of that plaza will remain as amenity spaces — outdoor seating areas and gardens (TVS Design-Moody Nolan).

According to a presentation to the Landmarks Commission, architects Moody Nolan of Cleveland and TVS Design of Atlanta said the renovation and expansion of the meeting and event facilities is so the convention center “can better address the current trends and needs of the local, regional and national convention markets.”

They noted that the ground-level expansion of the convention center will result in a 20,000-square-foot ballroom with views toward Terminal Tower, Ontario Street and across the atrium onto the Mall. The Mall is the three blocks of park spaces from Rockwell Avenue north to the overlook between City Hall and the old county courthouse. Below them is most of the convention center.

“The upper three levels are being converted to house additional meeting space with well-appointed public circulation and prefunction areas,” according to the presentation. “The upper floors will be accessible via elevators, new escalators and additional stair capacity. Restroom capacity will be increased as well to accommodate the additional occupant loads. New prefunction space on level two spills out onto an elevated terrace with views toward Terminal Tower and the public realm below.”

Plans for a canopy/shelter on the rooftop terrace at the Cleveland convention center.

A design-review committee of the City Planning Commission liked the addition of an canopy/shelter on the ballroom’s rooftop terrace although the plan is to make this amenity available depending on the needs of exhibitors and vendors (TVS Design-Moody Nolan).

Designs for the renovation are also intended to reduce the facility’s energy use by using high-performance window glazing and passive shading strategies that will allow the Cuyahoga County Convention Facilities Development Corp. to downsize the former Medical Mart’s mechanical systems. Also, the design team says structural overhangs and surrounding deciduous trees will be placed in a manner to “control solar heat gain to allow beneficial heat gain in winter and block the detrimental heat gain in summer.”

Landscaping around the former Medical Mart will be redesigned to enhance public spaces and the visual connection to the outdoors from inside the building. To do this, trees will be shifted to align with the building’s features and to be used as beneficial sun shading. “Benches and umbrella tables on both sides of the building will allow occupants and passersby a shaded, park-like environment,” the architects said. “The visual connection to the outdoors for visitors through glass-enclosed meeting spaces will provide sweeping views of the city and the Mall.”

Planning Commission’s staff and members of the Downtown Flats Design Review Advisory Committee on Nov. 17 gave favorable reviews of the plans and recommended passage by the Landmarks Commission. They had some design suggestions for the proposed expansion and renovations, how the structure relates to the grassy Mall and sidewalks as well as how a rooftop terrace above the expanded ballroom could be more useful.

Interior renovations at Cleveland's former medical mart to repurpose it into meeting and event space for conventions.

Plans for a renovated interior of the former Medical Mart show it would become an integral part of the convention center’s meeting and event facilities. The glassy wall at left looks out on the Mall with the existing convention center below it (TVS Design-Moody Nolan).

“Success of the events at the proposed terrace will rely on a canopy/shelter,” the committee noted. “Some renderings include a canopy, some do not.”

Committee members also said the design team should “Create a better connection to the sidewalk from the proposed amenity space at the corner of Ontario and St. Clair. Explore additional design features at the proposed greenspace at Ontario and hotel loading zone. Consider how design elements can be used to better lead visitors to the entrance of the building, as well as outdoors amenity spaces and the Mall. (And) consider how visitors in the ballroom can have direct access to the the outdoor amenity spaces.”

Lastly, staff and committee members urged the design team to “coordinate and confirm” with the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority about the relocation of its bus shelter on Ontario from in front of the expanded ballroom, possibly to another site. No further detail was given by the committee regarding this suggestion.


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