Longform

That Goes On Behind Closed Doors?

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Coming to Goddard's aid is former Republican lawmaker Burton Barr, who now is one of the mayor's major advisers. Barr said he sat in on several meetings with Gosnell about Thomas Mall. "The Gosnell case is the longest- running play in the history of the country," Barr says with his customary hyperbole. "I realize when you have a history like Gosnell's, it creates problems. But all the mayor wants is that whatever this deal was, that it be fulfilled. Gosnell has gone through hoops. It's unfair to say he has City Hall in his pocket. He's just trying to get the project off the ground. There's a great deal of money involved. In all fairness, Gosnell is doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing."

The history that keeps getting Gosnell in trouble is the history of a hometown boy who made good. As Kerrick of the planning commission puts it, "At least initially, most people thought Gosnell was owed something special because he'd taken three lousy sections of the city and made something good out of them," he says, referring to the three Pointe Resorts Gosnell developed. (One is on North Seventh Street, another on North 16th Street and the newest is in South Phoenix.) "But Bob's gotten arrogant and gone beyond his due. He thinks, `Because I've done these marvelous things, I deserve more.'"

BOB GOSNELL BOUGHT Thomas Mall in 1983 as the city was still developing its general plan for future growth. More commonly called the Village Plan, it shows where intense development is to settle--the "cores" of each village--as well as where neighborhoods should reign. But there was a particular problem with the corner of 44th and Thomas, a 72-acre site that was potentially a "secondary core" for the East Camelback Village. So many concerns existed about what redevelopment of Thomas Mall would mean to its surrounding neighborhoods that the general plan shows it as a "hot spot" deserving further study. The old "planned shopping center" zoning for the mall came from the days when that category meant just that: a place to shop. But the zoning category didn't prevent other uses, like offices--an oversight that future zoning modifications would correct. Gosnell has never been one to overlook such things, plus times had changed. Major retailers now like to settle in projects with significant office space nearby. And when Gosnell talks major retailers, he's talking about the likes of Macy's or Nordstroms--upscale stores that haven't entered the Phoenix market but sound very delicious to a city that relies heavily on sales taxes.

So Gosnell told the city he wanted to redevelop the old place with offices and retail, reminding them that he could have--without any permission from the city--some 3 million square feet of offices under his existing zoning. Of course, that was ludicrous. Given the four-story limitation of the code, it would have meant covering the entire site with four-story buildings of office cubicles. The market doesn't like such boredom, and Gosnell knows it. So he went to City Hall with a rezoning request. As he unveiled his plan, he kept bantering about the 3-million-square-foot number as though his new plan for only 1.8 million square feet of offices were a modest request. It wasn't. Along with the retail and resort space he wanted, it would have made Thomas Mall--the secondary core--larger than the 24th Street Camelback Esplanade, the central core for that village.

Meanwhile, the "hot spot committee," counting yet-to-be-elected Nadolski as a member, recommended Gosnell be limited to 200,000 square feet of offices, along with 1.2 million square feet of retail and 300,000 square feet for resort uses. Gosnell responded by cutting his office request to 1.3 million square feet. His attorney, John Theobald, announced Gosnell would be willing to put off building 400,000 square feet of those offices until a study on the 44th Street corridor was completed.

By the time the case was ready for public hearing, Nadolski was an elected official and was finding it difficult to convince the other councilmembers that Gosnell should be cut back. "Terry was the only one fighting me. The rest of the council was waiting to see what we'd come up with," Nadolski says.

Nadolski decided to go it alone, calling a news conference to tell Gosnell she'd fight his project tooth and nail unless he cut his request in half. That was May 3, 1988. The next night the Phoenix Planning Commission would hear Gosnell's zoning application. "Terry called and asked if I'd meet with Gosnell," she recalls. "I asked the mayor if I had his support for my position. He said we'd talk about it after the meeting." So on May 4, the now infamous secret meeting took place.

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Jana Bommersbach