Reporter

Was it bait-and-switch ... or good government?

Those were questions that emerged after the Nov. 27 City Council meeting in which the council chose G8 Development rather than Gatehouse Mason City LLC to be the developer of a downtown hotel.

In a way, it is an example of the disconnect that continues to exist between the public and the government, even when both have good intentions.

Gatehouse came into the picture in March after G8, the city's original choice for a hotel developer, failed to meet some construction deadlines and was ruled out.

The Council had included the G8 hotel plan in its application for state funding to help leverage a massive downtown renovation plan. When G8 was eliminated, the city entered Gatehouse's proposal into the state application.

The public was told repeatedly that two public issues related to the project needed to be approved on Nov. 7 or the downtown project was dead.

Gatehouse was the only developer involved at the time. So naturally, voters believed they were approving the Gatehouse plan when they approved both ballot issues with about 75 percent approval.

But because changes Gatehouse made in its proposal, the city had to allow a 30-day period for others to submit proposals. And this was after the Nov. 7 vote. G8 then entered the picture once again, submitting a competitive bid.

The Council reviewed both bids, and, on the recommendation of Interim City Administrator Kevin Jacobson, approved the G8 proposal over Gatehouse's.

The primary reason was greater savings to the taxpayer. One example: Gatehouse wanted $750,000 in pre-construction funding, non-refundable if the project was not completed; G8 sought $500,000, totally refundable if the project tanked. There were other savings factors as well. That's the city's side.

But Gatehouse supporters, and there are many of them, feel like they were victims of "bait and switch." The G8 proposal didn't exist until the last minute. And on Oct. 17, in one of Brent Trout's last presentations as city administrator, he gave a detailed presentation to the council and the public on the Gatehouse plan and participated in many public forums to inform the citizens about it.

The public was fired up about Gatehouse. They proved it with their Nov. 7 votes.

But Gatehouse apparently tripped on its own laces. Councilman Travis Hickey complained about how it was not forthright or prompt in responding to the Council.

At one meeting, when Hickey questioned Gatehouse representative David Rachie about one part of the development agreement, Rachie responded, "I don't negotiate in public."

Trout noted that deadlines were in jeopardy because Gatehouse was behind schedule. And in the end, because Gatehouse made so many changes from the original proposal, it was deemed to be a new proposal. And that required the state to open the process for new bids. That's how G8 got back in.

When the city conducted a "bid-off," giving each developer a chance to reduce its bid, Gatehouse didn't budge. G8 had the opportunity to undercut them in several areas and did just that.

Now the city is dealing with a developer who has never built a hotel; who has sued a California city and filed suit against Mason City (which it says it will now drop); failed in bringing a Hilton hotel to Mason City; and missed three deadlines on its last attempt to build a hotel in Mason City.

We all want Mason City to succeed, and we hope for the best. But I have a suggestion for newly-elected Mayor Bill Schickel and the mostly newly-elected City Council.

How about requiring monthly reports to the Council on the progress of the G8 project? 

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