Significant changes to the Chapel Square Mall and downtown’s main entrance may not be that far away.

New Haven is exclusively negotiating with a developing team composed of Baltimore-based Williams Jackson Ewing Inc. and Lubert-Adler Partners from Philadelphia to finalize a redevelopment plan for the downtown mall by the Feb. 28 deadline.

Preliminary plans call for allowing shoppers street access to all stores, mixing independent and chain retailers, and renovating the office tower above the mall with a combination of residential and office units.

“The basic model will be to turn the stores and the mall out to the street,” said Henry Fernandez, New Haven’s economic development administrator.

Under the proposed deal, the developing team will pay New Haven $2.6 million and assume $900,000 in debts on the property, Fernandez said. The city and the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce currently own the site.

Fernandez said developing-team representatives have been in New Haven since the start of the year, and so far negotiations have been smooth.

“I don’t expect or not expect problems,” Fernandez said. “The way these deals work is we try to get everything done. Right now, everything is on schedule.”

The developing team met its first major deadline by making a $1 million deposit last week, Fernandez said. If the deal falls through, the city would retain one-tenth of the deposit.

By the end of January, the next major date in the negotiations, the developing team must settle a lawsuit brought against the city by 155 Temple St. LC and its owner David Cordish, the Baltimore-based developer of the Omni-New Haven Hotel at Yale that abuts the mall. Sources said Cordish sued the city when work on the now-canceled Long Wharf Mall project appeared to threaten the promised redevelopment of the Chapel Square Mall.

Williams Jackson Ewing submitted a bid on the project last summer after New Haven issued a request for proposal. But the city hopes the developing team will agree to more stringent terms than present in the original offer.

The initial bid from Williams Jackson Ewing included plans to request millions of dollars in public subsidies, something city officials do not plan to offer.

“We didn’t feel it was necessary,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said. “We don’t believe in giving subsidies for subsidies’ sake.”

Williams Jackson Ewing, a well-respected real estate firm, managed the retail overhaul of Grand Central Terminal in New York and Sansom Common in Philadelphia for the University of Pennsylvania.

Matthews Ventures LLC of New Haven and S.N. Phelps & Co. of Greenwich also bid on the city’s May 2001 request for proposal, which initially included not only the Chapel Square Mall, but also the adjacent sites of the former Macy’s and Malley’s department stores. Plans for the now vacant Macy’s building and the Malley’s site are on hold, although city officials have an agenda for the parcels.

“We have some thoughts about the Macy’s and Malley’s plots,” DeStefano said.

Downtown retailers applaud the city’s selection of Williams Jackson Ewing and the project’s rapid progress.

“It will be great for New Haven to make it a true retail destination,” said Chip Croft, the president of the United Merchants Association and a member of the city’s project committee. “It will knit the town together. Right now, it’s a roadblock.”