Bidding process on huge City of Tampa project comes under scrutiny
TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor promises to hire a liaison officer for her one-of-a-kind downtown construction project to address concerns that the planned government complex in the heart of the city’s black community will be built with little help from minorities. contractors.
The announcement comes as black leaders from the local branch of the NAACP, the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs, the Urban League and the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa have publicly lined up to criticize the appeals process. offers. They say minority contractors have been unfairly barred from bidding for work, even as plans shift from a $10 million warehouse demolition project seven years ago to a legacy project of more than 100 million dollars to build what could be called the Eastern Town Hall.
“My first reaction was: this can’t be true. I thought the city would have done better. The city should have known better,” said Hillsborough County NAACP president Yvette Lewis.
Rumblings began in November shortly after city council members approved an initiative by Castor to award the contract to develop 11 city-owned acres in East Tampa at 2515 E Hanna Ave.
The City Center project was awarded to a national construction management company, DPR, based in California with an office in Tampa. This firm originally secured a much smaller contract in 2015 at the site to demolish a warehouse and come up with plans for the property, which originally included the relocation of a handful of municipal services. But these plans were abandoned.
The project resurfaced in 2021, becoming what a city official told council members was the city’s largest capital project in decades: -161,000 square feet of space that would house workers of 16 city departments. Despite the change in scope, the city decided not to relaunch the project.
Instead, city officials negotiated a new contract with DPR that was 10 times the value of the original.
Tampa officials say they followed state contract law.
“This is an interpretation of the law. It was our interpretation of the law,” that the change in the nature of the project was permitted, Assistant City Attorney Morris Massey said.
Deputy Administrator of Infrastructure Brad Baird, who led the selection committee for the original 2015 contract to demolish a warehouse on the property, said state law “is not specific to the scope” of the contracts, adding “there is a scope change in each of them.”
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“The evolution of the project was within its original scope,” Baird said.
Massey and Baird declined to go into specifics about the legal rationale for the city’s decision during a Jan. 27 interview.. City officials said they needed to act quickly because the new complex will house workers now located in private buildings with leases set to expire soon.
Christopher Atkinson, assistant professor of public administration at the University of West Florida, reviewed the city’s initial qualifying application. An expert in local tendering procedures, Atkinson said the reason given by the city for not restarting the project after its massive change made little sense.
“To me, it doesn’t look like a real emergency. It looks like someone didn’t plan,” Atkinson said. “The reasoning was a bit suspect to me. It just doesn’t smell good.
The magnitude of the project’s scope change makes it “materially” a completely different project, Atkinson said. And the ramifications of the city’s decision were that it failed to weigh the potential interest of other local, national or international companies capable of doing the job.
“You don’t know if this is the best deal you could have gotten,” he said. “I don’t think you can say it’s a level playing field if seven years later there’s a completely different project. I find it difficult to see that it is the same (project). It’s not the same thing.”
Joe Robinson, engineering consultant and president of economic development for the local branch of the NAACP, said he had been involved in hundreds of local deals spanning more than 30 years. He said the city’s process was riddled with inconsistencies, including failing to declare a public emergency in order to negotiate with what state law considers “the design-build company the most qualified person available at that time”.
Baird confirmed that no emergency has been declared.
Robinson said he thinks the project should go ahead, but is concerned about how the city will handle future projects when they change drastically.
“It sets a precedent for the future,” Robinson said.
James Ransom, chairman of the Economic Development Committee of the Tampa Black Affairs Organization, emailed city council members Feb. 3 with his group’s concern that the city has not “properly and fairly awarded the project to DPR. “In haste, it appears the (city) has circumvented (state law) and related Tampa executive orders process and procedures,” he said.
The organization recommended changing the contract for DPR to hire a third-party liaison, a so-called owner’s representative, someone who would monitor the project and help the city achieve its stated goal of a 35% minority stake in development and construction works.
The group also wants the city to change the contract to force DPR to bring in a partner with at least a substantial minority-owned stake for construction management and minority outreach. He also wants DPR to allow minority-owned businesses to do more outsourcing work and for DPR to contract directly with the black-run CDC of Tampa for workforce development and learning models.
The following day, DPR officials told the Tampa Bay Weather that they are committed to minority inclusion and have been active in recruiting minority partners since contract award.
“We believe we have demonstrated our commitment to minority outreach since being selected,” said Patrice Haley, the company’s National Supplier Diversity Manager. “We intend to continue to move forward with the city and find other diverse partners to help us in this process.”
DPR then sent out an email detailing dozens of workshops and one-on-one meetings with community and minority entrepreneurs the company has held since November. The company also said four of its 10 design and design assistance team members have been certified by the city as Black, Minority or Women-Owned Businesses.
On Monday, Castor announced in a press release that the city would hire a landlord representative.
“Downtown Hanna Avenue is such a historic and important investment in East Tampa and throughout the city that we want additional oversight to ensure we are maximizing minority participation and learnings,” Castor said in a statement.
Atkinson said municipal bidding processes depend on transparent processes and consistency when applying them. Otherwise, trust in local government can erode, he said.
“Procedures matter. They are there to ensure fairness,” Atkinson said.