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Sarasota Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 4 years ago

Downtown advocates question selection of garage contractor


Several downtown advocates are protesting the city’s selection of a Tampa-based engineering/construction firm to build a State Street parking garage slated for a 2015 completion.
Chris Gallagher, the downtown Sarasota architect who heads a construction team from Gilbane Building Co. — the firm that came in second — is also voicing concern about the city’s final selection.

In January, a selection committee comprised of city staff chose Tampa-based A.D. Morgan to design and construct the mixed-use parking structure that could include retail space and some residential units or recreation space on the top deck.

The group protesting the selection says the process was flawed and that the city ended up selecting a firm that employs only one Sarasota resident. They say the decision came during a time when unemployment in Sarasota remains high.

Downtown advocate Ernie Ritz said the city is giving away an important downtown construction project and jobs to an out-of-town company.

According to A.D. Morgan’s packet sent to the city, the firm advertised itself as “local to the Sarasota area.” The same materials, however, show that A.D. Morgan is headquartered in Tampa, with a Bradenton office. And only one, out of 33 full-time employees, lives within Sarasota County.

A.D. Morgan will team up with St. Petersburg-based Facchina Construction of Florida LLC and the parking consultant firm Walker Parking Consultants, also based in Tampa.

When asked by the Sarasota Observer how many local employees work in A.D. Morgan’s Bradenton office, the firm’s president, Rebecca Smith, said she did not want to disclose specific details about the project or her firm while she was finalizing a contract with the city.

Smith said she is a Manatee County resident and that staff levels at the Bradenton office fluctuate with the
location and scope of projects A.D. Morgan undertakes.

Gilbane is a national construction company with its Florida branch headquartered in Lakewood Ranch. The design/construction team is comprised of local staffers including a planner, architect, retail consultant and public-relations spokesperson based in downtown Sarasota.

According to its proposal filed with the city, Gilbane employs 23 city residents, eight Sarasota County residents, and 55 non-local residents.

Gilbane designed and constructed the Palm Avenue parking garage, completed in 2010.

“We just finished a garage (Palm Avenue) with a local firm that won all kinds of awards, and we are going out of town to hire someone when we have local talent,” said Tony Souza, chairman of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance and a member of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) advisory board.

The city search committee narrowed the field of eight proposals for the State Street project to two. In the final selection round, A.D. Morgan edged ahead with a 3-2 razor-thin vote from the committee, said senior city planner Steve Stancel.

Souza was one of two who voted against moving forward the project with A.D. Morgan as its contractor at a CRA advisory board meeting Thursday, Jan. 31. The advisory board vote was 5-2. During its Feb. 19 meeting, commissioners will vote on whether to proceed with the $7.29 million parking garage project.

At the upcoming meeting, the City Commission has final say on whether the city hires the firm the selection committee recommended, said Mary Tucker, purchasing manager with the city.
Both of the top firms said there was an opportunity for the State Street project to become more than just a garage.

Once a contract is signed, the chosen firm will hold several public workshops to elicit input and begin drafting plans.

At the CRA advisory meeting, Smith said her team would focus on building a top-quality structure.

“We want this to be a flagship and banner for this community,” Smith said.

After the Jan. 31 meeting, however, Souza still wondered if the city had chosen the best company for the project. Souza said the process for selecting the firm was flawed, and because both A.D. Morgan and Gilbane were so close he questioned why city planners didn’t forward the proposals of both firms to the City Commission to review.

Souza said he feels the city would be better off with a local firm that understands downtown’s unique environment and that will bring local jobs — whether it be Gilbane or another local company.

He also questioned why A.D. Morgan did not initially have an architect or retail development expert listed as a member of its team.

Ritz said he worries that A.D. Morgan’s out-of-town construction contractor will bring in a Tampa crew.

“We know Gilbane will hire local,” Ritz said. “(A.D. Morgan) might hire a few general labor jobs, but it will bring its crew from Tampa.”

Gallagher called the parking garage an “urban renewal” project. He said his team was surprised that such a close decision ended with the city choosing the Tampa company.

The city must have the garage built by February 2015, as part of an agreement made with Pineapple Square.


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