Medical Mart

Medical Mart

Cleveland’s new Global Center for Health Innovation hopes to sell MRI machines the way furniture expos promote bathtubs and dining sets.

Dr. Toby Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, got the idea for a “med mart” while touring Chicago’s Merchandise Mart with his wife in their home renovation days. The concept of setting up avenues of showrooms filled with all the medical equipment with which a doctor would want to outfit his hospital stuck, and though proposals to construct such a building popped up in New York City and Nashville, it was Cleveland that followed through.

“The need in northwest Ohio was not for a medical mart. It was for economic stimulus,” said Cosgrove. “I felt that in order to have a viable Cleveland Clinic, we needed to have a viable community around us.” Cleveland ranks high on the list of the nation’s poorest cities, yet medicine is one of its biggest industries. Cosgrove’s Cleveland Clinic is the largest non-governmental employer in the state.


After years of construction, a strategic re-interpretation of the original “med mart” vision and about $500 million spent altogether, The Global Center for Health Innovation—a mix of convention, civic event, and showroom space—opened on October 7 as one element of the 2 million-square-foot Cleveland Convention Center complex, which also includes a convention center and historical Daniel Burnham mall overlooking Lake Erie. Seattle-based LMN Architects principal Stephen Van Dyck called the Global Center “the most prominent visual icon of the whole place.”

LMN designed the Global Center so that the building faces the center point of the Daniel Burnham mall. From the main atrium, visitors can either go below grade to connect to the convention center or go up to the mall and look out over the park. A junior ballroom on the ground floor corresponds to a main ballroom in the convention center below. Above are three floors of open-plan showroom space.


“This is the only building in the world that is a full-time showroom for the medical device industry,” said Van Dyck. “The intent is that this building, coupled with the convention center, will be the center of gravity for the medical convention world. So that’s all just to say that we’ve never done anything like this because it’s never existed before.”

The medical use of the building was a relatively minor influence on the overall planning approach, added Van Dyck. The biggest consideration was how to integrate the new Global Center into a historic space planned by Burnham at the turn of the century. To avoid jarring the viewer, the Global Center was planned to relate to the mall. At the same time the architects attempted to convey the sense that there was something important and innovative going on inside an otherwise classically proportioned and austere building. LMN decided ultimately to apply a pre-cast paneling system to the facade with a surface texture that is a deliberate reference to the rusticated facades of the many traditional masonry buildings surrounding the complex.

“Burnham could never have foreseen that a global medical center could find a home in this space; could never had foreseen the convention center,” said Van Dyck. “At the same time he knew the lake was there and the topography of the city gave way on and exposed these beautiful views of the lake to the north. For us, it was those general principles that led to the design.”

Currently about 80 percent occupied, the Global Center’s managers expect to fill all reserved vacancies by February. Original managers Merchandise Mart Properties estimate that the Global Center will host 90 events by the end of the year and book 100,000 attendees. After the success of the Cleveland Clinic Medical Innovation Summit, which was held the weekend of October 14, the center appeared to be on its way to buttressing Cleveland’s newly imposed image as a medical hub.

“We have a quite complete overarching strategy with a mission and a vision of being very attractive to visitors and to spawn innovation and ideas,” said Bennett. “The business model is to drive traffic to Cleveland by listing the only place in the world where the best of what is possible in health and healthcare is shown and constantly refreshed. Think of us as the Epcot Center for Healthcare.”