The city of Sarasota has loosened its contractor requirements for the construction of the Palm Avenue parking garage after receiving complaints that the original requirements disqualified all local companies.
Kerry Kirschner, executive director of the Argus Foundation, wrote to City Manager Bob Bartolotta and city commissioners Sept. 9 after hearing from Sarasota construction companies that believed they were being shut out from bidding on the garage project.
Kirschner cited three stipulations in the request-for-proposal (RFP) that local companies said discounted them:
• A minimum of five similar projects, two with a government agency, during the past 10 years.
• The architect and engineer must have worked on three different parking structures, two of which must be of similar scope and size in Florida.
• A minimum of three different design/build projects involving concrete parking structures in Florida.
(Design/build indicates a single company will design and build the structure, instead of two, separate companies.)
“As we struggle as a community with the economic difficulties faced by so many, we would hope that you would consider giving our local businesses and employees the opportunity of productive labor,” Kirschner wrote.
Two days later, the city changed the first two requirements to:
• A minimum of three projects with structured parking, one of which must be with a public entity, during the past 10 years.
• The architect and engineer must have worked on three different parking structures in Florida.
Kirschner reviewed the changes with a couple of contractors, and they said the revisions would allow them to bid on the project.
“My purpose was to let local companies bid on this,” Kirschner said. “This was an issue of fairness.”
Steve Stancel, the garage project manager, said the city’s objective in writing the original requirements was simply to make sure the construction company had experience.
“We have a very tight time frame — starting in April and ending before season begins,” Stancel said. “We did another look and made some changes, and we feel that it’s a good compromise.”
The change may help quell rumors in the Sarasota developers’ community that the city wants Orlando developer Finfrock Construction to win the contract and that the city received help writing the requirements from Finfrock, which has built about 130 parking garages across the state.
“That’s not the case at all,” said Stancel. “Finfrock did come to meet with us before the RFP went out, but we also met with four other contractors.”
Stancel said such meetings are not unusual and that talking to experts is just part of the city’s effort to do its due-diligence process.
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