Big Project bidding Process Comes Under Scrutiny

by Michael Abdoney - 01/31/2022 -Tampa

Jane Castor, the Mayor of Tampa has promised to recruit a liaison for her mega city center construction project that is meant to address the concerns of city residents majority of which are the minority. The construction will get a boost from minority-owned contractors.

The announcement follows criticism from black leaders of the NAACP local branch, the Urban League, Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, and Organization of Black affairs. The leaders have questioned the manner in which the city leadership has handled the bidding process of the construction project. They claim that minority contractors were sidelined from bidding for the work.

The President of Hillsborough County NAACP, Yvette Lewis said that he was surprised by the manner in which the entire bidding process was done. “I think the city leaders would have done better than they did. It is clear that the bidding process was skewed to disadvantage minority contractors and we cannot sit and allow that to happen” said Yvette.

Trouble started in November almost immediately after city council members passed an initiative brought forward by Castor to issue the contract to develop acres of land owned by the city in East Tampa.

The Project was awarded to DPR, a national construction management firm based in California. The construction company also has its offices in Tampa. In 2015, the company had been awarded another smaller project within the site to demolish a warehouse and present a plan on how to develop the place. But the plan was later shelved for unclear reasons.

The projects came back to the public limelight again in 2021 and was described by a certain city official as the biggest city capital project in decades. The project was supposed to cover 161,000 square feet and accommodate workers from across 16 departments. But despite the size, the city refused to rebid the project.

Instead, the city leadership decided to engage DPR and negotiate a new contract with them. Surprisingly, the value was ten times more than the previous deal. State officials defended themselves by saying that they were guided by the state contracting laws to arrive at the decision.

“This has to do with the interpretation of the statue. Our work as city officials is to follow the laid out procedures from awarding contracts and that’s what we did. There was nothing wrong with changing the nature of the project as per the laws”, said Morris Massey, the deputy city attorney.

According to Brad Baird, the deputy administrator for infrastructure, the state law is not specific to the scope of a project. Baird who also served as the head of a selection committee for the initial contract in 2015 said that no law was breached in changing the nature of the original contract.

However, in an interview held on January 27, Baird and Massey refused to go into details about the legal justification of the city’s decisions. City officials that they moved to act quickly since the leases of buildings housing city workers are expiring soon.

In a news release, the city major on Monday said that she has initiated talks to bring about consensus.