Reporter

Mayor Bill Schickel and the Mason City City Council have a daunting task ahead of them as the River City Renaissance project trudges forward.

Schickel has said seeing the project through to fruition would be his No. 1 goal as mayor.

For most of us, who do not have inside information on all that is going on, we not only don't know all the details, we don't know what we don't know. That's not a new concept, but it's a challenging one.

Author John McPhee once wrote: "There are known knowns -- things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns -- things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- things we don't know we don't know."

This notion of not knowing what we don't know is a concept I first wrote about in a column in July 2017. At that time, Gatehouse was the only hotel developer.

Today, six months later, Gatehouse is out of the picture, G8 is in; two public issues have been passed when voters thought Gatehouse would be the developer; we're not close to having the first spade of dirt turned on the hotel; and the unanswered questions persist.

G8, you remember, first approached the city about building a Hilton hotel in the parking lot next to City Hall. That fell through when G8 owner Philip Chodur couldn't get a Hilton franchise.

He then came back with a proposal to build a Marriott hotel in the same spot -- and he had Marriott's approval. But he defaulted on his development agreement with the city so that deal also fell through. City officials said at the time he couldn't get financing.

The city then put out a call for new proposals for a hotel -- and it received two -- from Gatehouse and G8. The City Council chose to go with Gatehouse, perhaps because of its recent history with G8.

Last September, then-City Administrator Brent Trout was giving public presentations on the value of the Gatehouse proposal in order to try to sell it to the public.

But Gatehouse made so many changes from its original proposal that the city was forced, by state law, to solicit new bids. G8 submitted one, and the City Council approved it.

By this time, Trout was gone to Topeka to become city manager there. A month later, we elected a new mayor,  three new council members and had an interim administrator.

The hotel deal is part of the $38 million River City Renaissance Project for which the city has applied for up to $10 million in state funding to help leverage it.

The money is to come from the Iowa Economic Development Authority which has been working with the city for well over a year and has shown extraordinary patience as the city tries to meet all of its requirements. At its meeting this month, the IEDA once again deferred action on the project because all requirements had not been met.

I try to stay on top of all of this, fearing that I may be a victim of not knowing what I don't know.

What I do know is that the state wanted a signed development agreement. Done. It wanted Chodur to drop his lawsuit against the city. Done. And it wants proof that Chodur has the financing to build the hotel.

Chodur says he has the financing. As of Friday, the city and the IEDA had no proof of it.

Why is this so difficult? That's the question the mayor and Council should demand to have answered.

Unless of course there's something I don't know that I don't know.

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