Miami Fasttracked Nobids To Meet Deadline Officials Say
By Eric Kalis
City of Miami officials say they fast-tracked two no-bid city projects this year in a race to satisfy the terms of a bond program the city entered into in 2002.
In the wake of criticism from Commissioner Linda Haskins during the Nov. 9 commission meeting that the city awarded concurrent projects to James Pirtle Construction Co. without a public bidding process, city officials say the no-bid contracts were necessary to meet a spending deadline for a Homeland Defense Neighborhood Improvement Bond given to the city in 2002. Ms. Haskins was the only commissioner to vote against the terms of the contracts for the second phases of Jose Marti Gymnasium at 434 SW Third Ave. in Little Havana and Little Haiti Park Cultural Center at 5925-27 NW Second Ave.
Pirtle Construction signed a construction management-at-risk contract with the city in January that specified both projects would be negotiated in two phases — the first for pre-construction work and the second for actual construction, said Gary Fabrikant, assistant director of the capital improvement projects department. Commissioners approved the $8.9 million price tag for phase two of Little Haiti Park on Nov. 9, bringing the total contract amount to $14 million. For Jose Marti Gymnasium, the commission approved $6.4 million for phase two to make the total contract worth about $10.4 million. The management-at-risk contractor bounded Pirtle to do the work at the agreed price.
These contract values do not represent a cash overrun — city officials were aware that phase two of construction would go back to the commission, Mr. Fabrikant said.
Commissioners delayed voting on the updated contracts during the summer, citing concerns that the phase two prices seemed excessive, Mr. Fabrikant said. The city then brought in auditing firm Faithful and Gould to examine the projects and give an independent cost estimate, he said.
The firm found that Pirtle’s request for phase two of Jose Marti was actually 2.8% below its cost estimate, while the request for phase two of Little Haiti Park was within 1.2% of the estimate, Mr. Fabrikant said.
"One of the reasons the prices (for phase two of both projects) were higher than originally expected is the state of the construction market," Mr. Fabrikant said. "The value was determined based on real-time pricing. The pricing analysis showed that the city is receiving good value for these projects."
The city was under pressure to spend the bulk of the 2002 bond, worth about $153,000,000, before city officials can pursue a new bond program, which they plan to do in the middle of 2007, Mr. Fabrikant said. A failure to satisfy the bond’s terms could have hurt the city’s bond rating and ability to afford future bonds, he said.
In essence, the city "spent money to save money," Mr. Fabrikant said. Awarding each project without a bid also reduced their timelines by nine-to-12 months apiece, he said.
When the commission originally approved the bond program, the capital improvement department did not have projects earmarked for construction at the time, Mr. Fabrikant said. The department is more prepared this time around, so the city will not have to expedite projects by negotiating no-bid contracts, he said.
"We will not have this scenario come up again because we have already planned for the next bond program," Mr. Fabrikant said. "We already have projects ready for construction."