The Coca-Cola "cat" almost slipped out of its Howard County bag last week.
The secret, in case you still haven't heard it, is that Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. has signed a letter of intent to buy the 120-acre Parkway Corporate Center for $16.8 million and build a %o 650,000-square-foot regional headquarters and bottling plant there.
The $100 million facility would be located east of U.S. 1 near proposed Route 100 and the Anne Arundel County line. It would serve the East Coast, have 300 to 500 employees, and consolidate a number of smaller bottling plants in the mid-Atlantic region.
Until Monday, this previously published information was attributed solely to unnamed sources. Equally hush-hush was a clause in the letter of intent that made the sale contingent upon closing a part of Park Circle Drive.
A letter of intent is often a preliminary step leading to the signing of a contract. It is used to determine a price and establish certain conditions needed for the sale to go forward.
Monday, the County Council helped meet Coca-Cola's conditions by voting unanimously to close the road. No one mentioned Coca-Cola, however, until Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said maybe someone ought to.
"I have spoken with officials from Coca-Cola, and I have been told by high-level Coke officials that they intend to locate at this facility," she said. "They know that I am planning to share this information tonight."
They may know, but they're not saying.
"It would be inappropriate for me to comment unless there were a signed contract," said Laura Brightwell, a company spokeswoman in Atlanta.
County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he knew in advance that Ms. Pendergrass would make her announcement, but like Ms. Brightwell, he wasn't talking either. In fact, no one was talking "Coke" or "Coca-Cola" except Ms. Pendergrass.
Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. avoided the secret words by saying the road closing was something the administration has been planning for some time.
Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, avoided them, saying that to provide incentives to businesses wanting to locate in Howard County "is not a bad way to go."
Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, avoided them by talking about the site. "It has rail service and no wetlands problems. The zoning is there, the utilities are there. I hope what Ms. Pendergrass says is true."
Mr. Rutter didn't say yes and he didn't say no. "There are very few sites like it in the county," he said. "It is important to protect those sites."
All that remains is for the council to pass a bill Sept. 21 saying that road closings are to be accomplished by resolution rather than ordinance and making the bill retroactive to July 17, 1990.
In what turns out to be a retroactive surprise -- council members say they were unaware of what they had done on July 17, 1990 -- the council "inadvertently" passed a law saying that road closings were to be accomplished by the bill.
Bills take effect 60 days after passage. Resolutions take effect immediately. Bills can be vetoed or put on the ballot, in which casethey don't take effect unless voters agree to them. Resolutions cannot be vetoed and cannot be petitioned to referendum.
The council and the administration say the law requiring road closings to be accomplished by bill was a mistake.
Once that happens, County Executive Ecker, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and high-level Coke officials are likely to call a news conference, finally making public what until now has been a loosely guarded secret.