Lawyer and major downtown hotelier Perry Sanders Jr. wants to bid on a piece of downtown Colorado Springs land that some city officials say was promised to Nor'wood Development Group by a previous City Council.
The trade was described to the current council on Monday as a veritably done deal.
"I didn't know anything had been promised to anybody by anybody," Sanders said Thursday.
Nor did most City Council members.
"No, it's not a done deal," Councilman Keith King said. "I'd be happy to entertain offers for it. The world is full of competition. It should go through the process and see who the highest bidder would be."
"It doesn't exist," Councilman Bill Murray said about the purported pact. "Nothing in here says anything about a swap. It was an exchange for an Urban Renewal Authority project that was abandoned, and it had nothing to do with Nor'wood."
Traffic Engineer Kathleen Krager and City Attorney Wynetta Massey told the council that the land swap is part of a URA plan.
For documentation, Massey gave council members a 2008 statement of intent and resolution, signed by then-Mayor Lionel Rivera, for a project that would see John Q. Hammons Hotels and Resorts complete a 225-room hotel by Dec. 31, 2011. A lot was to have been transferred from the city to the URA to Hammons in exchange for that project.
None of that happened. The 2008 resolution was written to replace a statement of intent from November 2006 - indicating that such agreements can be changed.
The lot in question is at the west end of a planned pedestrian bridge from the future U.S. Olympic Museum to America the Beautiful Park. Krager said the city would get a link of trail in exchange for the lot.
But Jill Gaebler, council president pro tem, said the council should pursue the best option for the land.
"This process has not been transparent. And the fact that Perry Sanders didn't even know? There could potentially be some very creative ideas about how to use that land. We just don't know because we haven't been transparent about this project. Yet."
"If you have a property anybody is willing to pay top dollar for, you have a fiduciary duty to the citizens," Sanders said. "We are very aggressively in the mode of wanting to add residential density, and we see this site as a fabulous place to do that in a big way.
"We want to make sure people have a very cool, world-class environment to live in at a reasonable cost, and that is our objective. And I mean very cool," said the owner of the Mining Exchange and Antlers hotels.
Said Gaebler, "We shouldn't be locked into something that's been sort of agreed upon by city officials and the master developer."
Nor'wood, Olympic Museum officials, the Downtown Partnership and staff from the city and Mayor's Office have been meeting two to four times a month since last summer as the Southwest Downtown Planning Team, Krager told the council.
"I was surprised to hear about that team - just the city staff, Downtown Development and master developer. There wasn't even an urban renewal representative on that team," Gaebler said.
King said, "No, I did not know that was happening. But I think council should be involved. It should be open, and it should be transparent. . I want full discussion, disclosure and an open process. Just because people have been talking about it behind closed doors, that doesn't mean it's a done deal."
Said Murray: "This property needs to go to the highest bidder per the real estate manual and our obligations to the citizens. Nor'wood can include the trail property within their bid, but it will go to the highest and best bid.
"What is critical to this particular discussion (Monday) is this allusion to the idea we already made a deal. ... That is not true. You cannot transfer property to the URA if the project isn't consummated, and it never was."