Wichita council weighing change to no-bid policy for public-private projects

03/03/2014 3:08 PM

03/03/2014 3:08 PM

Are public-private construction projects enhanced when the city and private developers share an architect and builder?

If the answer Wichita City Council members come up with Tuesday is yes, they are expected to carve out an exemption to city policy that will once again allow no-bid contracts for such work.

Bidding would no longer be required for construction work jointly financed by city and private money – if general contractors agree to select their subcontractors through a competitive process approved by city staff. The city also plans to engage a third-party expert in these instances to verify construction estimates and contracts.

Projects entirely financed by taxpayers would still require competitive bidding.

City Manager Robert Layton and Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner led the charge to eliminate no-bid projects in 2012, along with former council member Michael O’Donnell. Since then, all city-involved projects have required competitive bidding.

Layton and Meitzner said the proposal does not represent a shift from their original positions.

“If we want to scratch off the scab of the Ambassador Hotel, the parking garage was a separate construction project serving the public and even under these changes, it’s still going to be a public bid project because we paid for all of it,” Meitzner said.

Layton said his “thought process has evolved somewhat” since that 2012 move to eliminate the no-bid deals.

“What I needed to recognize is the opportunities where city and private money are in a project and a straight-up bid process wouldn’t be workable,” Layton said.

“A good example would be the ‘hole in the ground’ (the large excavation on the south side of Douglas near Main,” Layton said. “If a developer wanted to build something there, and have parking as part of that development – say 70 percent cost for the building and 30 percent for the parking – then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to force a process on that developer that requires them to use someone they don’t work with.

“The question became how we allow a developer to control these projects and protect our dollars, so we came up with this hybrid working with the WDDC (Wichita Downtown Development Corp.) and Goody Clancy.”

Before 2012, Wichita had a no-bid process for public-private projects that dated from the mid-1990s, according to city staff.

In 1996, 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. This allows developers who have entered into development agreements with the city to choose their general contractors without going through the city’s formal bid process. In these instances, the City Council must approve the development agreement by a simple ordinance passed by a two-thirds majority vote.

Meitzner said the Associated General Contractors of Kansas has endorsed the policy change.

“I think this has been fully vetted and I plan to support it,” he said. “It’s a pretty good compromise, from my perspective.”

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