Airport contracts: Vendor questions provide window into high stakes competition

By David Pendered

Even on the second round of bids, vendors who want a concessions contract at Atlanta’s airport had lots of questions about the process.

In fact, vendors submitted 157 unique questions. These queries provide a glimpse into the secret world of competition in Atlanta’s multi-billion dollar airport concessions business, a competition that has elicited proposals from companies as small as Manuel’s Tavern to those who are global giants of the concessions industry.

The questions submitted by vendors indicate the level to which they are struggling to manage their way through the massive procurement process in a climate of heightened security and immigration compliance. In addition, some questions try to pry open the proposals that were rejected, possibly to learn more about the competition’s plans.

The city discarded bids submitted in August, stating that so many included botched paperwork that the only recourse was to start the process anew. Many news organizations sought access to the rejected bids, only to have the city give basically the same answer provided to vendors who wanted those documents.

A city document states:

“It would not be in the interest of the city, the proponents, or the process for the city to disclose specific details of the proposal submissions publicly until the final contracts are awarded or the projects are terminated or abandoned.”

New bids for food and drink concessions were due in late October, and the deadline for the batch of retail proposals is due Dec. 15.

This package of food and beverage and retail contracts is so big that the city contends it is the largest aviation procurement in North American history. Every food and beverage space at the airport is on the block. All the retail spaces in the new international terminal are up for grabs.

In all, 157 contracts are to be awarded for periods ranging from seven years to a decade. That’s a long time to have exclusive access to the well-heeled passengers killing time as they pass through the world’s busiest passenger airport.

Here are some highlights and lowlights of the questions. This question/answer format was provided by the city.

Q: When can new vendors get into their space to start construction?

A: “May 15 should be the anticipated concessionaire opening date. The take-over dates for all non-international terminal spaces will occur when the Department of Aviation makes the spaces available….”

Q: “Page 43 of the RFP, Q&A #7, lists Exhibit E: Form 1 Security and Immigration Compliance Forms (Contractor affidavit) as being part of Volume II. Whereas, page 51 – instructions to proponents item # 6 states: ‘All contractor affidavits must be submitted attached to the front outside cover of Volume I.’ Please clarify the submission requirements for this form….”

A: “Exhibit E: Form 1 Security and Immigration Compliance Forms (Contractor affidavit) is obsolete. Exhibit E, Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act forms must be attached to the front outside cover of Volume 1.”

Q: “Are the concessionaires allowed to self promote their proposed brands … prior to the contracts being awarded?”

A: “Concessionaires are prohibited from communicating directly, in any manner, with city officials, employees or representatives other than the contact person designated in the appropriate RFP. The city does not prohibit proponent self-promotion as long as such self-promotion does not violate this prohibition.”

Q: “Does the presentation of packaging of the notebooks make any difference in the evaluation? Previously, gift wrap type packaging and decorated steamer trunks have been used.”

A: “Packaging of RFPs is not considered by the evaluators as long as it complies with the requirements of the RFPs.”

 

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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