Once an early high-profile supporter of the medical mart concept, drug distributor Cardinal Health (NYSE: CAH) has had an apparent change of opinion.

The giant drug distributor -- and Ohio's largest company -- does not plan to lease space in the planned Cleveland medical mart or its counterpart in Nashville, spokeswoman Corey Kerr said. So don't expect to see Cardinal Health products in any medical convention center -- an untested concept that would house under one roof product showrooms from numerous companies that sell to the health-care industry.

Two years ago, Cardinal was one of 11 tenants announced by a New York medical mart project that fizzled out shortly afterwards. Cardinal seemed enthused by the New York project, which was to be called the World Product Centre, at the time.

"The development of World Product Centre provides a transparent, neutral location for health care providers to evaluate products and services from a variety of manufacturers and distributors," Mark Rosenbaum, Cardinal's chief customer officer, said at the time.

But now, Cardinal Health is singing a different tune. Kerr reiterated a quote she gave to The Tennessean for an article on the Nashville Medical Trade Center's progress.

"Our customers have made it clear to us that they prefer our continued participation in industry trade shows and events that they've come to know and respect," she said. "It's important to maintain personal interaction with our customers in locations that are convenient to them."

Not having Cardinal Health products in its showrooms -- let alone the Cardinal Health company endorsement -- is an early setback for the convention centers. But property developers behind the Cleveland and Nashville medical marts have to hope that Cardinal's change of heart isn't indicative of a general disinterest in the medical mart concept on the part of big health-care firms.

To counter that notion, Nashville would almost certainly point to a recently signed big-name tenant: furniture maker Steelcase. Cleveland, meanwhile, would argue that more than 60 companies have shown interest in signing leases for its medical mart, including publicly traded Northeast Ohio medical device manufacturers Invacare (NYSE: IVC) and Steris (NYSE: STE).

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