Marlins ballpark contractor may receive $25 million in infrastructure work without competitive bidding
By Risa Polansky and Yudislaidy Fernandez
The contractor team tapped by the Florida Marlins to build a $515 million ballpark may also be handed $25 million in infrastructure work at the stadium site without competitive bidding.
County commission votes on definitive stadium contracts — including construction and management agreements — are expected next month. Heading into the vote, some commissioners are questioning whether the promise of local job stimulus will be fully met by giving the work to non-local companies under a no-bid contract.
Administrators had hoped to finalize all of the contract documents in time for today's (1/22) regularly scheduled commission meeting.
In preparation, the county two weeks ago published a legal notice in the Miami Herald notifying the public that commissioners would conduct a public hearing today "to consider whether it is in the best interest of the public to waive formal bid procedures in connection with the construction of all public infrastructure work associated with the proposed Florida Marlins ballpark and authorize the award of the project to Hunt/Moss, a joint venture, or another appropriately licensed contractor."
Hunt/Moss is the construction team the Marlins picked to build the planned 37,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium in Miami's Little Havana.
Hunt has built several ballparks, including the recently opened Nationals Park in Washington, DC.
To waive formal bid procedures means to skip the county's customary practice of advertising the project, considering proposals from various respondents and choosing the best deal based on qualifications and price.
The public notice says Mayor Carlos Alvarez plans to instead recommend to commissioners that "it is in the best interest of the county" to either give the $25 million infrastructure job to Hunt/Moss, "uniquely qualified to undertake the project because all of the public infrastructure work is affiliated with the ballpark project," or to waive formal bid procedures and allow the county to choose a contractor "because the time to competitively award the project will materially increase the cost of the project."
County administrators would not comment, as contracts are still being ironed out and details are not final, spokesman Suzy Trutie said.
Miami City Manager Pete Hernandez said in an interview that hiring the same contractor to build the stadium and surrounding infrastructure could eliminate potential conflicts of coordinating two different contractors and, in turn, avoid delays in the construction schedule.
The city, which owns the land slated for the stadium, is set to pay half of the infrastructure costs.
Today's schedule concerns come nearly a year after the county, city and team inked a preliminary baseball stadium pact — an agreement that named a July 1 deadline to finalize the contracts elected officials have yet to see.
The Marlins ballpark is expected to open in 2012, a year later than originally planned.
The Hunt team completed the stadium for the Nationals on a 22-month construction schedule.
Local officials have blamed Marlins ballpark delays on a lawsuit by auto dealer and civic activist Norman Braman that tied the project up in court over the summer.
Mr. Braman struck out in Circuit Court but is appealing.
The county can only use the lawsuit as a scapegoat for so long, Commissioner Sally Heyman said.
She's for months pressed the administration for information on infrastructure costs and the source of funding, among other questions.
County Manager George Burgess in a memo this month addressed some of Ms. Heyman's concerns.
"The county and city have agreed to a scope of work for public infrastructure that totals approximately $25 million, which will be split equally between the two parties," he wrote, noting that about $5 million is meant for contingency and reserves, meaning the county should end up paying about $10 million in hard costs out of pocket.
"This is a very low cost for public infrastructure when compared to other stadium projects or other sites that had been contemplated for our project," Mr. Burgess wrote.
Infrastructure work is to include installing water and sewer mains, improving the storm water system, providing electrical service to the site, improving roads, adding sidewalks and installing road signals on roads adjacent to the planned stadium at the site of the old Orange Bowl.
The county plans to pay its share with interest earnings on stadium bonds, funds from the Water and Sewer Department, road improvement dollars and Convention Development Tax residual funds, the memo says.
The convention tax is set to fund also $60 million of the county's share of stadium construction costs and $23 million of the city's, including the $10 million for demolishing the old Orange Bowl.
The tax would also pay for cost overruns if necessary, Mr. Burgess' memo says.
Ms. Heyman pointed out that, in light of the economy, tourism is slowing.
The county collected record convention taxes in July: up 6.2% from the year before.
But, between Sept.15 and Dec. 15, collections dropped 4%.
Though Ms. Heyman said she still awaits answers to some of her questions, Mr. Burgess' memo touched on another of her concerns: the county's liability for cost overruns.
"The area that had the greatest potential for such overruns was the performance of the public infrastructure work," he wrote.
Early on, the county and city planned to do the infrastructure work, but during negotiations, "it became very apparent that the public infrastructure work needed to be controlled by the same entity building the stadium," Mr. Burgess wrote. "This would improve coordination of the project and give control of the master schedule to one party."
Mr. Hernandez, Miami city manager, said the same in an interview.
"It could prevent potential overruns" to have one entity in charge of both stadium and infrastructure construction, he said.
Still, Commissioner Heyman said, "I think we have a responsibility to see who is responsive and can do the job instead of giving it to a company who has done something before."
Also, neither company in the joint venture set to build the stadium and surrounding infrastructure is Miami-based.
Hunt's headquarters are in Scottsdale, AZ; Moss' in Fort Lauderdale.
"Last time I looked we were in an economic recessionů what happened to economic stimulus?" Ms. Heyman said. "So much for local preference and everything else like this."
Commissioner Natacha Seijas also expressed concern about local participation in a Jan. 5 memo to Mr. Burgess.
She named "hiring local labor and subcontractors to build the project" as one of her "three primary concerns" with the Marlins deal and said she left a meeting with club President David Samson "completely disappointed by the responses provided by Samson on all three issues."
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, not a fan of the baseball deal, said that if it passes, it should at least provide local jobs.
"I think it should be spent on the people who are actually living here," he said. "The people here need the economic stimulus."
Both the county and the city have policies providing for local labor preference, meaning it's likely local workers will end up on the job, though without complete ballpark contracts it's unknown how many.
Mr. Gimenez said he's also "not crazy about" the county's plan to skip the bidding process and give the infrastructure job to Hunt/Moss.
"As far as the no bid, I'm not crazy about the no bid," he said. "But that's part of the deal. That's one of the reasons I'm not really in favor of the deal right now."
Another beef: "My thing is the notice was a little bit premature," Mr. Gimenez said.
The county paid $2,232 to place the public notice in the Herald advertising the now-postponed vote and would need to place another if a new date is set to vote to waive bidding.