Thermal site ‘short fuse’ e-mail ignites some council members

Monday, June 25, 2007 at 1:53pm

Mayor Bill Purcell’s plan to build an amphitheater on the site of the former thermal plant downtown entered stormier waters yesterday when his lead ally promoting the concept in the Metro Council said he would consider withdrawing his support for the ordinance.

Councilman Mike Jameson first contemplated pulling his support after reading e-mails obtained by The City Paper. The missives indicated that Baltimore developer Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse thought Metro would set a timeframe with a “short fuse” for accepting proposals from builders to build the amphitheater.

A Struever representative yesterday quickly cautioned that the internal e-mail, which was posted on the Internet without the company’s consent, could easily be taken out of context.

Michael Hayes, Struever’s development director in Nashville, said that since the time Purcell proposed the amphitheater the company has been fully supportive of an open and competitive request-for-proposals (RFP) process. Further, Struever said it will share with its competitors pre-construction data it collected regarding the thermal site when it was a partner with Metro and the Nashville Sounds for building a new ballpark on the site before that deal collapsed in April.

“To bring you up to date, legislation will be filed tomorrow by councilman Jameson to transfer the site from METRO to MDHA [Metropolitan Development and Housing Authority]. The Mayor has taken our idea on this as his own idea for the site and has fully embraced it,” Hayes wrote in a May 24 e-mail to Michele Whelley of commercial real estate services firm Colliers Pinkard, which helps Struever fill its office buildings.

Hayes forwarded the e-mail to Struever executives Bill Struever and Priscilla Carroll.

“The ordinance will have a provision in it I believe (this is still a moving target) that will require MDHA to have a RFP with a short fuse. Furthermore, it will limit the site plan … to liner buildings around a city park/amphitheater,” Hayes continued. “We expect that the ordinance will be passed in early July and that the RFP will have 45 days for interested parties to respond. I also believe it will mandate a construction start of 3/1/08 and have hurdles in it for design progress, financing progress, etc.

“We will not have certainty on our ability to do anything on this site until mid July (if no one else responds to RFP) or mid to late August once the award is made.”

Purcell, at his State of Metro address, announced the amphitheater-park ordinance the same day Hayes sent his e-mail. However, the pending ordinance, as drafted by Metro staffers and that is sponsored in the Council by Jameson, does not mandate a timeframe for closing the RFP as Hayes’ e-mail suggests. The e-mail could stoke Council fears, founded or not, that Purcell and Struever had reached a “done deal” — as Councilman John Summers suggested earlier this week.

Although Jameson reacted strongly to the document, he cushioned his statements.

“Well, this is obviously concerning. I think I have to consider either withdrawing my sponsorship of

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