City Council delays action on new bidding policy for public-private projects

Ambassador Hotel (Feb. 18, 2013)
Ambassador Hotel (Feb. 18, 2013) File photo

Despite strong council and public support, the Wichita City Council on Tuesday delayed action for a month on a new bidding policy for public-private projects.

The delay, until March 4, came at the urging of Mayor Carl Brewer and Vice Mayor Pete Meitnzer, who said the city’s construction industry didn’t fully grasp the changes.

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, 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.

The city’s revised bidding policy still appears likely to be extended next month, 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 developer to verify construction estimates and contracts for alignment with market costs.

But Brewer and Meitzner said they wanted more time to communicate the changes to the city’s construction industry, based on late-arriving communications both received.

“I’d sure like to have their input that they agree,” Meitzner said.

The confusion centers on the city’s plan to require a competitive subcontractor selection process. Many contractors don’t understand what that means, Meitzner said.

Layton said potential public-private project contractors could select their own process for selecting sub-contractors, then submit it to the city for approval.

“We would not dictate a process up front,” the city manager said.

Jeff Fluhr, president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., endorsed the proposed policy shift, saying his board has formally voted to approve it.

Fluhr said the changes provide a clear picture to potential downtown investors of the city’s investment policy.

Layton said last week 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 to the City Council after it was bid out. The decision to request bids came on the heels of some city-financed downtown parking garages that spiraled over budget.

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