by Getahn Ward, The Tennessean | Jun 08, 2011

A subsidiary of giant office furniture maker Steelcase Inc. has become the first individual manufacturer to sign a lease for space in the proposed Nashville Medical Trade Center downtown.

Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Nurture by Steelcase – which designs furniture specifically for the health-care sector – plans to occupy up to 4,000 square feet of showroom space initially. The medical mart is to replace and expand the current location of the Nashville Convention Center on Lower Broadway.

Nurture by Steelcase’s showroom will anchor the sixth floor of the project – an area that’s to be dedicated to furniture and accessories.

The five-year lease to be announced today is in line with the strategy of the mart’s Dallas-based developer, Market Center Management.

“The most critical component of the development of a successful mart is to settle in on leaders within the specific categories, and get them to anchor the space and bring along others,” said Bill Winsor, chief executive of Market Center Management.

Still, the developer remains a long way from its goal of becoming 60 percent leased before securing financing and starting construction. The mart – designed as a trade show and merchandise mart to take advantage of the booming Nashville health-care industry – has a target date to open in 2013.

Each floor in the proposed 11-story mart is to cover 130,000 square feet.

Long-term commitments
Overall, the mart will feature 1.5 million square feet of permanent showrooms, temporary exhibit space, as well as education and training facilities.

More than a year ago, the developer announced a lease of 25,000 square feet by the trade group Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

More recently, deals were announced for the first permanent showroom for health-care products and services from China and a global business development center to provide services for international companies seeking entry into the U.S. health-care market.

Winsor said Market Center could have another tenant to announce soon, adding that such decisions involve lengthy discussions and considerations by the targeted companies.

“It’s not … and it has never been represented as a short-term game,” he said. “We’re getting long-term leases, headquarters operations and programs and commitments that are pretty durable.”

In its showroom, Nurture by Steelecase will display products in a variety of health-care environments. They include seating products such as sleeper sofas for patients’ rooms, modular caregiver stations and mobile workstations.

The HCA hospital chain and Vanderbilt University Medical Center are among the company’s local customers.

Michael Hughes, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based managing director with research consulting firm Red 7 Media, expects a 7 percent increase in attendance at conventions and trade shows nationwide this year.

While a recovery is under way in the U.S. economy, possible trade mart tenants are likely to take their time before committing, he added. “The question for these types of developments is to what extent do companies want to invest in new real estate and marketing projects,” Hughes said.