Tourism officials in Nashville are eagerly anticipating a vote by the city council that could not only approve construction of a new convention center, but also clear the way for transforming the old convention center into the country’s first “medical mart”—a permanent trade show for medical equipment and supplies.

The Nashville City Council is set to vote on January 19 on a proposal to build a new convention center, the Music City Center, a few blocks from the current facility. The proposed project would have 360,000 square feet of exhibit space, making it three times larger than the existing center.

In November, the upcoming vote took on added significance when Market Center Management Co., a Dallas-based developer, announced that it had selected Nashville as the site for its new project—the Nashville Medical Trade Center. The developer has said it will build a 12-story, 2 million-square-foot facility at the site of the existing convention center, pending approval of the Music City Convention Center. Space in the medical mart would be leased to more than 600 manufacturers and vendors of medical equipment and supplies, showcasing products and services year-round in a kind of permanent trade show exhibit space. The medical mart would also feature some temporary exhibit space and conference facilities.

It would be the first such facility in the country, although another company, Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., Chicago, has proposed one in Cleveland. However, some details of the Cleveland project, including the site, have not been finalized.

If the vote to build the new convention center is defeated, the developers will have to find a new location for the medical mart, explains Kay Witt, senior vice president of sales at the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau. However, she feels confident that the proposed $585 million convention center project will be approved. While there has been debate in Nashville about spending public money on a new convention center, the announcement that a private developer would spend $250 million to build at the site of the old convention center has deflected some of the opposition, Witt adds. However, an opposition group of concerned citizens called Nashville’s Priorities has formed, seeking signatures to petition the mayor to let the public vote on the new convention center.

“We are very eager to move ahead,” Witt says. “A lot of things are in process now; we are in the process of buying the land and finalizing the designs.” The financing plan has also been proposed. “Everything is ready to go. We just need to get the [city council] vote.” A 40-story Marriott Marquis convention center hotel is also proposed, but that is on hold until the market for private financing improves.

Tourism officials believe the medical mart will bring more visitors to the city, and they hope that it can boost the city’s profile as a destination for medical meetings. “Most people don’t realize that healthcare is our No. 1 industry in terms of number of jobs, and tourism is No. 2, so it’s just a real nice marriage for us,” says Witt.