Bill Winsor isn’t going to talk about letters of intent for the Nashville Medical Trade Center. The Market Center Management Co. president and CEO is waiting for something more permanent — signed long-term leases — before he starts waving any victory flags for the $250 million project.
For the Nashvillians who have been holding their breath, the wait may soon be over.
In a meeting with NashvillePost.com today, Winsor and other NMTC project  leaders said the company has 15 promising lease proposals — complete with space specifications, terms and conditions — before big-ticket tenants. If they’re all signed, the deals would account for 10 percent of medical mart’s 1.5 million square feet of permanent showroom space.
The progress update comes more than four months after the company made its first and only anchor tenant announcement, with a deal for the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society  to put its interoperability showcase in at least 25,000 square feet of project at Fifth and Broad.
Meanwhile, developers of a $425 million mart in Cleveland have been touting a bagful of LOIs  from unnamed entities for showroom space and trade shows.
Talking about tentative commitments, it seems, is just not Winsor’s style: “We could have a lot of letters of intent at this time,” he said. “Ours would probably have names on them.”
The post-HIMSS announcement silence has been the result of Market Center Management’s leasing approach and the complexities of putting together these deals, Winsor said.
To start, the leasing team  has been pursuing a list of 25 to 30 anchor tenants, those Winsor describes as multinational, multi-divisional, “household name” businesses. Bringing those tenants on first, and giving them the pick of the mart’s floor plan, should help the leasing team secure other tenants and fill in space in a more orderly fashion.
But finalizing the leases for such tenants is not a quick process. It’s taken much back-and-forth between his team and the companies to determine these businesses’ space needs and configurations, taking into account that they’ll be in the space for a minimum three-year lease term, and then ironing out a term sheet.
“We never expected to have a bunch of signed leases within a few months,” said NMTC General Manager David Osborn.
Though Osborn and Winsor declined to name the 15 companies with which the NMTC is finalizing leases, they said the individual spaces range from 5,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet. The largest of those is a health IT company and two of the businesses are headquartered in Europe and would look at a local presence as their U.S. gateway.
Leases aren’t the only thing the NMTC team has been working on — nor are they sole important component for a successful project, Winsor said.
In addition to courting companies, Winsor has been talking with trade associations, health care providers, group purchasing organizations and education and training partners — like Lipscomb University  — about the benefits of holding meetings and events at, partnering with, and just visiting the mart.
Winsor mentioned recent meetings between his team and health care trade associations in Washington, D.C., and a commitment from one GPO to holding an upcoming quarterly meeting at the mart.
But, again: “A non-binding letter of intent to hold a meeting is not reportable,” Winsor said.
When plans for the NMTC were first announced in November, Winsor targeted a 2013 opening. He said the project is still on track to hit the market by the middle of that year.
Market Center’s principals are currently exploring financing options for the development, which will rise 12 stories above the existing Nashville Convention Center. Winsor is not expecting any difficulty in accessing the necessary capital, given a number of the difficult-to-finance components of the project — meeting rooms, exhibit space, hotel rooms and parking — are already part of the convention center's footprint.
What’s left to finance, mostly long-term leased space, will be much easier to finance on favorable terms than if MCMC were building from the ground up.
From there, the development has a 20-month construction time line. The first four or five months will be mostly invisible, as crews work to renovate the existing convention center and strengthen its columns to hold the new construction above.