The board of directors of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Wednesday delayed selecting a prime contractor for its $ 557 million upgrade project after rival developers alleged a conflict of interest and other irregularities in the selection process.
Convention center management had recommended that a consortium led by Indianapolis-based AECOM Hunt and local developer Broadmoor oversee the most comprehensive upgrades in the 37-year building’s history.
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However, one of the losing groups, led by local developer Paul Flower’s Woodward Design and Build, alleged that selection panelist Hilary Landry had a conflict of interest when she voted for the AECOM-Broadmoor group and her voting model showed a clear calculation in favor of Broadmoor.
The winning bid was selected by a five-person jury under the conditions set out in the Louisiana Hazardous Construction Management Act of 2014, which authorizes the award of government contracts based on criteria other than to tell less. According to this law, the head of the procuring entity must be one of the panelists; in this case, it’s Michael Sawaya, president and CEO of the convention center. Other members should include qualified contractors, designers / architects and âgeneralâ members.
The convention center board of trustees decided in June that the extraordinary member would be Landry, a former Jefferson Parish deputy attorney who unsuccessfully ran for the 24th Judicial District judge in 2013.
The protest letter to the board, written by Woodward chairman Ken Flower, son of Paul Flower, alleges that Landry voted strategically to ensure the Broadmoor group would win. He said his personal interests include the fact that his stepfather Mickey Landry III was a longtime senior executive at Broadmoor’s parent company Boh Bros. Construction Co. In addition, as a member of the Superdome Commission, she is the designated liaison between that body and Broadmoor, which makes major contracts for the stadium.
Flower’s letter further alleged that Landry deliberately calibrated his votes to secure the outcome. âMs. Landry only checked the outcome of the whole multi-month and very expensive processâ by voting in a very different way than the other panelists.
Records provided by the convention center show that Landry voted within 2.2 points of the panel average for AECOM-Broadmoor, but had voted 15.4 and 16.6 points below the panel average for the two other groups looking for work.
Michael Sherman, a land consultant for the Third Mix Group, led by Metro Services Group and The Lemoine Co., also alleged that the convention center broke the law by holding a secret ballot where panel members were not required to explain their vote. scores.
“What happened in the procurement is the most unreasonable and blatant violation of the open meeting law I have ever seen,” Sherman wrote in another letter read at the meeting. Wednesday.
David Phelps, the attorney for the convention center, said the challenges of losing groups had only recently come to his attention and he had yet to verify whether the state’s open meeting rules had been raped.
Sawaya said officials had previously looked into complaints about Landry’s alleged bias as a panel member. “Regarding the declared conflict of interest, the law says it must be an immediate family member or a clear financial interest,” which Phelps and other legal advisers at the center have determined that this was not the case with Landry’s association with Broadmoor and the work on the Superdome commission.
The contract at stake is one of the largest for a public body in New Orleans history. It’s part of an even larger $ 1.5 billion transformation that’s being proposed for the area surrounding the convention center.
In March, the convention center brought in a consortium led by local real estate developer Louis Lauricella for a $ 550 million project to transform more than 40 barren acres at the upstream end of the center into a new “neighborhood of entertainment “, with housing, a civil rights museum. , entertainment venues and public spaces. Flower’s Woodword group was also among the latest group of three potential âmaster developersâ for this project, but lost in a similar vote.
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Another controversial item in the centre’s development plans is a more than $ 500 million hotel at the upstream end of the complex, which is back under review after being suspended due to the pandemic.
To date, approximately $ 112 million of the current $ 557 million capital improvement plan has been spent, primarily for a $ 60 million linear park along the 11-block convention center boulevard. houses in front of the center.
Most of the money remains to be spent: on improvements to the interior of the building, mainly to modernize the large meeting rooms. A potential upgrade would open up part of the complex where the new transportation hub is located, so there would be a new all-glass multi-purpose building with views of the Mississippi River.
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