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Developers sought co-venture with city

Newly released minutes of the City Council’s private meeting last March about the proposed downtown tower show the developers sought to have the city acquire the Fountain Square building and have the developers tear it down and build an expanded public plaza on the site.

The discussion of land acquisition by the city appears to give the council legal grounds to hold the meeting in private since the state open meetings act provides that closed sessions may be held to discuss "the purchase or lease of real property for the use of the public body, including meetings held for the purpose of discussing whether a particular parcel should be acquired."

During a discussion among themselves with the developers out of the room, many of the aldermen voiced support for the concept of the tower, but said they didn’t want to collaborate on the project with the developers.

Alderman Steve Bernstein is quoted in the minutes as saying "he would never vote to co-sponsor the project" and that he has a philosophical aversion to using the city’s eminent domain power to forcibly acquire the Fountain Square building, although he did favor the idea of the city acquiring the building and expanding the plaza.

Aldermen Lionel Jean-Baptiste, Cheryl Wollin and Ann Rainey are also quoted in the minutes as opposing any joint venture with the developers to expand and rebuild Fountain Square — saying they believed the city should tackle that project itself, using additional tax revenue generated by the tower project.

But Alderman Melissa Wynne is quoted in the minutes as suggesting it would be a good idea to promote the idea that the tower could help pay for redeveloping Fountain Square. "A tall building alone without the plaza would draw thousands of people and be criticized, whereas a tall building with the plaza would be different," the minutes quote her as saying.

A little over two months after the private meeting, Wynne told her Third Ward constitutents at a public meeting that she was adamantly opposed to the tower plan, becoming the first and apparently the only alderman so far to publicly oppose the project.

When developers Tim Anderson and James Klutznick returned to the session, Alderman Edmund Moran told them "the notion of being a co-applicant was soundly rejected" but that overall there were positive feelings about the project among the council members.

The developers then dropped the collaboration plan and a month later announced plans for the project now working its way through the city’s review process.

The full minutes of the closed meeting are available as an attachment below.

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