That Goes On Behind Closed Doors?

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Nadolski left the meeting and called planning commission chairman Bob Kerrick to tell him the fight was over. It wasn't until recently, she says, she discovered the case was very much alive. "Three weeks ago I heard Gosnell was in to see Terry and Terry was telling the staff to hurry [the consultants to get the economic study done] because Gosnell might get Macy's. I confronted Terry: `You're mucking in my district. This is my political career. Stay out of it.' He told me, `I think you're exaggerating.'"

But if Goddard didn't see the political implications, Nadolski quickly did. "I went down to the staff and said, `What the hell's going on.'" It was then she started reading some of the Gosnell correspondence that was filling file folders in the planning department.

"I had convinced developers up and down the 44th Street Corridor to hold off on projects until the specific plan was completed," she says. It looked, she admits, as if she had held them off to give Gosnell an unfair advantage--a proposition she found preposterous considering their longstanding feud. (In her May 3 news conference announcing her cutback demands, she joked about the widely reported acrimony between them: "One could easily get the impression that Mr. Gosnell and I will be meeting at noon, guns blazing, and one of us will walk away the victor.")

The correspondence clearly shows Gosnell's people have a way with words. "Gosnell has sent lots of letters and made many statements that we have not responded to at all," says planner Quay. "That in no way means we agree with these assertions."

But an examination of one example is illustrative of numerous word-jockeying attempts.

In April, as Gosnell was preparing to pitch his pending project to Macy's, he wanted a statement on city letterhead that would say he was going to get considerably more office space than the zoning allowed. Quay explains the city, always interested in new sales taxes, was trying to help him out. "But we were very careful in that letter," Quay says. "We never said he would get more office space and we never said he wouldn't." Quay should go back and read the final version.

Quay wrote the first draft of the letter, FAXing a copy to Gosnell. Back came a response from Gosnell, with recommended changes. The city revised its letter again, ignoring many of Gosnell's suggested changes but adopting others. Most critically, Quay's first draft said that after the economic study is completed and "approval of same by the city council," additional office space "can be added" to Gosnell's approved plan.

But the final letter, signed by planning director Ron Short on April 11, instead copies Gosnell's suggested wording that additional space "will be added" to Thomas Mall. It's not just semantics. Gosnell has already put the city on notice that he's not pleased with how things have gone and his attorney has drafted a letter that very much sounds like the precursor to a lawsuit. If the city pulls back now, as it's being pressured to do by neighborhood groups and Nadolski, the "paper trail" in those city files would undoubtedly be used in court to support Gosnell's contention that the city was reneging.

As evidence, Gosnell's attorney, John Theobald, had a letter hand-delivered to Mayor Goddard on April 27 that declares Short's April 11 letter "represents the legal position of the city." But then Theobald misstates Short's letter, claiming several points Short never made.

Jennifer Whittle, director of public relations for Gosnell, says she is the only one from the company who will comment on the case. "There was an accord reached [in the private meeting] which was defined by a zoning stipulation passed in a public meeting," she says. "Since then, the city has sent a letter confirming [the deal]."

The final study, by EDAW, Inc., got to City Hall on Monday and surprised a lot of people. Although most had expected the study to justify hundreds of thousands of additional square footage of offices, it concluded that any more space at Thomas Mall would create a traffic nightmare. But while that would seem to be the end of the argument, Whittle says Gosnell feels the door is still open for more office space if he can get traffic improvements in that area.

Whittle also recasts the neighborhood opposition, ignoring those immediately around Thomas Mall and concentrating instead on the vocal protests coming from the Gateway Center area. "There's a difference between neighborhoods and investors," she says. "We feel these are very nice people, but they're trying to convert their neighborhood to commercial and their concern is [Thomas Mall] will take all the absorption [of office space]."

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Jana Bommersbach