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Wichita City Council to consider bidding policy extension

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, at 9:49 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, at 12:12 p.m.

After a year of study and two years after a major shift at City Hall, the Wichita City Council on Tuesday will consider extending its bidding policy for public-private construction contracts.

The weekly council meeting is set for 9 a.m. in the City Hall council chambers.

The change will put in writing the city’s policy for the past two years – that competitive bidding is required for any free-standing construction work completely financed by the city. One recent example is the Ambassador Hotel parking garage on Douglas, a project that led to the policy change in January 2012 when City Manager Robert Layton, Pete Meitzner and then-council member Michael O’Donnell objected to a no-bid contract award. Wichita’s Key Construction, the general contractor for the hotel, eventually won the bid for the garage.

That policy will be extended, with council approval on Tuesday, to allow no-bid contracts for construction financed through a mix of city and private developer funds, with a couple of caveats:

• General contractors will be required to select subcontractors through a competitive process agreed to by the city.

• The city will retain third-party experts, at a cost billable to the project, to verify construction estimates and contracts for alignment with market costs.

Layton said the changes are the result of a yearlong internal review.

“We went to the developer community to gauge best practices, and we talked to Goody Clancy to see how best to proceed,” he said. “We’ve known that we’re going to have projects where the money is mixed, and we want a guideline how to proceed.” Goody Clancy is an architectural, planning and preservation firm in Boston that was chosen to help develop a downtown master plan.

Wichita’s no-bid process dates back about 20 years, according to city documents.

In the mid-1990s, as the city was trying to get the Hyatt Regency hotel built, it passed a charter ordinance allowing developers to choose contractors for public-private partnership projects without going through the city’s formal bid process.

The Ambassador garage at Douglas Place, awarded at $4.73 million to Key Construction – a partner in the hotel project and the project’s contractor – came in about 20 percent under estimates provided the City Council, on the heels of some city-financed downtown parking garages that spiraled over budget.

The 2008 WaterWalk Place garage built by Key Construction, an original partner in the WaterWalk project, came in $1.5 million over budget at almost $8.5 million. That’s the biggest parking garage miss, according to city figures, although the 2004 Old Town Cinema garage built by Key Construction came in almost $1 million over budget at $5.225 million.

The city’s business relationship with Key Construction has drawn political fire from the anti-tax and anti-spending group Americans for Prosperity in recent years, given Mayor Carl Brewer’s 15-year friendship with Key president Dave Wells. The two men, friends for about 15 years pre-dating Brewer’s time in office, take annual fishing trips together.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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