Airport concessions contracts due this week, or wait till 2012

By David Pendered

Time is running out for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration to present the City Council with a list of proposed winners for 152 pending food, beverage and retail contracts at Atlanta’s airport.

The recommendations must be delivered this week if the council is to mull them over the winter holiday. The council begins its annual two-week vacation at the close of business on Friday, Dec. 16.

One likely scenario is for the administration to present the recommendations for consideration by the council’s Transportation Committee. The committee is slated to convene at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

The Transportation Committee handles the bulk of the airport’s contracts.

Meanwhile, city officials have yet to follow through on Reed’s promise to disclose the names of members of the selection team. Such disclosure is not typical among U.S. airports, but Reed said disclosure would be made as part of the city’s effort to show the purity of the procurement process.

Reed made the vow in statement released June 8, which was intended to address a white paper by Common Cause of Georgia that called on the city to curb campaign contributions from airport vendors, among other matters. The paper outlined a history of corruption and conflict of interest involving airport contracts that spanned decades.

Here are some of the mayor’s commitments as outlined in that statement:

“Hartsfield-Jackson has adopted several policies to ensure the appropriate mix of concessionaires and to prevent one or two major players from dominating the airport’s concessions. Specifically, the following measures have been implemented:

  • The names of the evaluation members, once finalized, will be released to the public;
  • All potential evaluation panel members have agreed to stringent ethics and disclosure requirements;
  • Concessionaire selections will be made by multiple different panels to maximize expertise and fairness;
  • The qualifications standards for the proponents have been augmented to include additional non-airport experience to provide a more level playing field and expand opportunities for new and small companies;
  • The airport has hired an independent consulting firm to help train the proposal evaluation panel members;
  • No one vendor can win more than three of the 12 concession packages available;
  • The requests for proposals can be located on the City of Atlanta’s website.”

The city decided not to use a competitive bid process to hire the independent consulting firm to train the review team. Instead, the city expanded the scope of work of a consultant already working on the concessions program.

The stakes of this concessions procurement process couldn’t be higher. Many millions of dollars of profit are on the table in contracts that extend a minimum of seven years.

For starters, Reed’s administration has hung its hat on a clean procurement process. Reed evidently wants to draw a bright line between his approach to governance and corrupt practices that had occurred in the past. Several city officials were convicted in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on charges related to corrupt contracts.

Another point is that Reed’s administration decided to go to market with a huge package. This set of 152 contracts is said to be one the largest airport procurements in the history of North American airports. On the table are 125 contracts for all the food and beverage concessions at the airport, plus contracts for 27 retail shops in the new concourse.

The process already is months behind its original schdule. The plan was to sign contracts in September, according to a statement in March by airport General Manager Louis Miller.

The process was delayed by about a month during the summer, in order to answer questions from vendors.

The major delay resulted from the city’s decision to cancel the procurement process and issue new requests. That decision was announced Sept. 2, in advance of the Labor Day holiday weekend.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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