Arena designs unveiled last week indicate the arena will have standing platforms five to seven rows deep, rather than seats. Jane Kinsey, a member of a new Lincoln government watchdog group, questioned the wisdom of making students stand up during entire games during the Thursday meeting of the Joint Public Agency overseeing the project. She said it’s not fair for students to have to stand.
(JPA member Jayne Snyder apparently didn’t see the Wednesday front-page story on this, “Isn’t that the football stadium?” she asked during the meeting. Nope. It’s your arena.)
Stan Meradith of DLR, the architect, said the Nebraska athletic department requested standing platforms, which are typical in arenas nationwide, he said.
“They want their students to stand,” he said. “We easily could put in seats and benches.”
UNL Regent Tim Clare said when the university, the city’s partner, says that’s what they want in the arena, the JPA should honor their request.
“We could put seats there (but) they’re not gonna use ’em, they’re gonna stand,” Clare said. “That’s the way it’s been, that’s the way it is around the country.”
In fact, Clare said Marc Boehm of the UNL Athletic Department was adamant that they want standing platforms on three sides of the court.
As an aside, I found it funny how in the LJS story cited above, the writer quickly pivoted from the students’ standing issue to whether season ticket-holders would have any trouble seeing over the standers.
The city has finally released new renderings of what Lincoln’s new arena will look like when it’s complete in (hopefully) 2013. They are not real detailed, but they are different from the renderings that have been public up to now. The arena appears to be a lighter color, but what really jumps out at me is what appears to be a huge picture on the side of the arena apparently depicting a historic picture of the Haymarket.
Take a gander and then have at it with your architectural critiques.
The city of Lincoln began charging the new occupation taxes — which are usually passed on to consumers — in January. The first batch of taxes were due in late February — although bars and restaurants can choose to pay the tax quarterly — and Finance Director Don Herz told the Joint Public Agency that oversees the arena project that the city collected about $743,000.
“I’m very comfortable with those numbers,” Herz said. In fact, depending on the final numbers that come in by April, he said the tax revenue “may slightly exceed” the city’s projections. Car rental and hotel businesses are seasonal, he said, and will fluctuate.
Speaking of occupation taxes, the Journal Star is reporting that the Legislature is on the verge of taking away the city’s authority to charge occupation taxes on the sale of telecommunications equipment. The city of Lincoln broadened this tax from services to equipment last year, but the Legislature was lobbied heavily by retail groups to rein the city in. Looks like a compromise would allow the city to keep the tax until 2013 — giving the city breathing room for awhile.
I’m hearing LIBA (the Lincoln Independent Business Association) is concerned about the strings attached to the federally subsidized bonds the city is using to help finance part of the arena project. According to my source, since the city is using federal Build America Bonds, contractors will have to pay “prevailing local wages” on the job, which this person says will add millions to the cost of the project — perhaps more than the city will save by getting the low-interest financing.
For example, a sheet metal worker would have to be paid at least $26.17 an hour plus $12.52 in benefits, according to the federal Davis-Bacon requirements for this area.
I was told LIBA might bring this up at the JPA meeting on Thursday, but they didn’t.
The Joint Public Agency overseeing financing and construction of the project will be asked Thursday to terminate the temporary contract that SAIC Energy, Environment & Infrastructure (formerly Benham Companies) has been working under for about five months and approve a regular contract with SAIC worth $4.4 million that lasts through the fall of 2013. SAIC is the program manager — they coordinate budget controls and progress to make sure the project gets done on time and on budget.
Interestingly, the new contract adds a subcontractor called PC Sports of San Antonio, Texas, to serve as project manager for the arena portion. Their contract is worth $913,500 — or $30,450 a month. According to public documents, SAIC will provide PC Sports free office space, document control and support and administrative support. The documents don’t indicate whether this is an increase in the projected budget for program management.
PC Sports was founded in 2001 and according to its web site, the company provided project management services for the AT&T Center in San Antonio, the Sprint Center in Kansas City and the KFC Yum! Center (please don’t let us get such a dorky arena name!) in Louisville, Ky.
The JPA will consider the new arrangement during its meeting at 9 a.m. on Thursday at city hall, 555 S. 10th St.
According to public documents, the cleanup of a diesel plume in the area targeted for Lincoln’s new arena will take longer than originally planned and cost about $400,000 more than projected.
The arena development is largely taking place on the active railyard west of the Haymarket — where there is a diesel plume about the size of a city block northwest of Lincoln Station. General Excavating of Lincoln was hired to remove the diesel.
The three-member Joint Public Agency overseeing construction of the project will be asked Thursday to approve a change order that will — among other things — give the excavating company more time to do the job. The documents indicate originally the contractor was scheduled to begin work Dec. 22 and finish the remediation of the diesel spill in 55 days, by Feb. 15. But due to delay of approval of the contract, the “notice to proceed” wasn’t issued until Jan. 13.
General Excavating argued weather caused delays, too, but the city said weather delays should have been taken into account when the company submitted its bid, since the work was to be done during the winter and the city had “unseasonably favorable” conditions during most of that time frame. The city is proposing that the JPA grant a seven-day extension due to weather to account for blizzard conditions the first week of February.
The JPA will also be asked to grant a 25-day extension due to BNSF’s delay in completing an overhead power line relocation and no temporary power to do the work.
All in all, the change order will change the target date for the work to be substantially completed to May 10.
“While the West Haymarket Redevelopment Project is on a very aggressive timeline, we understand that there may be additional requests for extensions of time due to unforeseen circumstances,” Ernesto Castillo of the Urban Development Department wrote to the contractor.
The board overseeing financing and construction of Lincoln’s $340 million arena project approved the use of condemnation — or eminent domain — to buy two pieces of property for the project.
After an executive session — a portion of the meeting that is closed to the public to talk about real estate negotiations — the Joint Public Agency unanimously voted to authorize the use of condemnation to “take” property owned by Alter Trading Co. (which owns Alter Metal Recycling, a scrap yard south of the Harris Overpass) and the Watson-Brickson Lumber yard owned by Jaylynn, a limited liability corporation if necessary.
Assistant City Attorney Rick Peo said the city and two property owners have been negotiating for months on what will be a “fairly complex” relocation. He said alternative sites for the scrap yard and lumber yard are difficult to find, and negotiations are “coming to impasse.” Railroad track work must begin this year, and the JPA needs to either acquire the properties or terminate rail services by May 8 to stay on schedule, Peo said. That’s why he said the “possibility of condemnation” is needed to get legal title to the land by then.
“This is a timing issue,” said Dan Marvin, who coordinates arena work for the JPA.
JPA member Tim Clare — a University of Nebraska regent — said he did “due diligence” and talked to the “players” involved in negotiations, and he said the property owners’ representatives were “very complimentary” and understand the situation. He said condemnation would only be used if necessary.
Peo said a condemnation hearing date would be scheduled to award damages, but negotiations would continue in the meantime.
“It buys you time,” he said of condemnation authority.
After several days of bad publicity, the city’s arena JPA finally responded to the criticism with a letter to the Journal Star yesterday. Although given that the three JPA members aren’t legally allowed to meet privately — because it’s a violation of their bylaws — I’m not sure how they got together to write the letter.
Perhaps someone wrote it for them?
Let’s get into the meat of the issue: As I’ve written before, the arena JPA has taken a troubling turn lately, allowing its general contractor, Mortenson Construction of Minnesota, to skip using the city’s purchasing process to choose most of its subcontractors. Mortenson has argued that it needs to have this flexibility to get the project done on time and under budget.
Problem is, they’re not doing it the way the city specified when it solicited bids from companies nationwide.
Trivial, I know. Unless you’re one of the other bidders.
Now the JPA (that’s Mayor Chris Beutler, Councilwoman Jayne Snyder and Nebraska Regent Tim Clare) is defending its decision to go ahead and approve the pre-construction contract, despite its less-than-transparent features. They argued in their letter that the city’s electronic bidding process (e-bid) wouldn’t allow Mortenson to steer contracts to Lincoln businesses, because they would have to take the lowest bid.
Not so: It’s not the e-bid computer system that prohibits them from playing favorites for local companies — it’s the city charter. However, the city doesn’t have to take the low bid if the company doesn’t meet specifications — and those specifications can include all the “important factors” (like their safety record or experience) the JPA said Mortenson needed to be able to evaluate in choosing subcontractors.
They also said e-bid wouldn’t allow Mortenson to force subs to “sharpen their pencils” to find additional savings after bids are submitted — but that also opens the door to wheeling and dealing with their preferred sub to make sure they get the job.
The JPA did acknowledge the validity of “the concern about transparency” — but claimed the amendments they adopted would bring some transparency to the process. However, seeing scorecards and names of bidders does not eliminate the fact that the public STILL WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SEE THE ACTUAL BIDS.
This kind of secrecy and shrouding got Mortenson in trouble in Kentucky, and it may just get them crossways with contractors here, too, if the JPA continues to allow Mortenson to run roughshod.
Sometimes I have to wonder if our elected officials have any idea what they’re doing.
Like yesterday, when the Joint Public Agency (the board overseeing the arena project) met to talk about a pre-construction agreement with their general contractor, Mortenson Construction.
Although the city had advertised for a contractor that would use the city’s open, transparent bid process to choose subcontractors, the pre-construction agreement approved by the JPA just obliterated that promise. It will allow Mortenson to choose subcontractors to do mechanical electrical and plumbing, structural steel, precast concrete, concrete, exterior walls and vertical transportation.
I wrote a story Tuesday about how the agreement makes a mockery of the promises Mayor Chris Beutler has been making about how the project will be done with complete transparency and accountability. The Journal Star wrote about it the next day. Then the JPA met to consider the agreement – and was completely snowed.
Even LIBA couldn’t convince them to slow down, take a week to mull it over, reconsider whether bids should be opened privately. Nope – they plowed forward, driving blindly.
Understand, the JPA is comprised of Beutler (whose staff wrote up this deal), Councilwoman Jayne Snyder (who rarely deviates from Beutler’s agenda) and University of Nebraska Regent Tim Clare (our only hope to ask the right questions).
Clare opened the discussion by saying they’ve come up with an amendment that should address concerns about transparency. Which would be great – if only it were true.
The only relevant change seemed to be that a JPA member or designee would be able to observe the discussions and interviews with bidders. How is that going to work? Will a JPA representative be hanging out with Mortenson from here on out? Listening in on their conversations and negotiations? Impossible.
Also, bid scorecards would be made public. The way I understood it, the scorecards were already going to be made public. Seeing scorecards is not the same as seeing what the bids were.
Something is pushing the city to go along with Mortenson’s more private way of doing things – even though Mortenson got sued for this very type of keep-everything-a-secret process in Kentucky. And even though Beutler has repeatedly said this will be the most transparent, open process the city has ever seen. Within a week, he was retreating from that position. Now he’s completely forgotten it.
Who is holding this guy’s feet to the fire? Clare tried, but failed. And he’s the one guy whose vote could stop everything, according to their bylaws.
John Wood, senior vice president of Mortenson Construction, attended the JPA meeting, and buttered ’em up good. Even though it appears Mortenson is abandoning the promise it made when it put in its proposal to use the city’s open, transparent bidding process, he basically said they have to alter that to get the project on time and on budget.
He said Mortenson will use “tried and tested methodology” used on big, complex projects like this and they will be open and transparent “to the greatest extent possible.”
To his credit, Clare asked some good questions, like whether Mortenson would just hire their non-local “friends” to do work.
To his credit, Wood acknowledged many regional and national firms are interested in getting a piece of arena work – including firms they’ve worked with before. Wood said those firms have been advised to hook up with Lincoln businesses.
Wood said Mortenson is willing to use the city’s eBid procurement system, but did not elaborate. It still appears the eBid will only be used to “receive” bids, which will be opened privately.
Mayor Beutler commented that he thinks some citizens don’t understand the city is using the construction manager at risk method to build the arena – which is different from the usual design-bid-build method the city uses to build streets and bridges. Which was irrelevant – that method doesn’t require bids to be so secretive.
The upshot is that Wood made everything sound peachy, the JPA board bought it, and nothing substantially changed.
The doling out of arena subcontracts may not be as open and transparent as originally advertised if the Joint Public Agency that governs the arena approves the pre-construction agreement on its agenda Wednesday.
Mortenson Construction of Minnesota and Hampton Enterprises of Lincoln are construction manager at-risk for the arena project, and the way they handle awarding of contracts is of great interest to companies hoping for a piece of the $340 million project.
However, the agreement (see it here: JPA-Attach-01-26-11 the agreement begins on about page 140) does not require Mortenson to follow the city’s usual open, transparent bidding process and hands over construction of two more projects that weren’t in the original project scope — a pedestrian bridge and arena plaza — to Mortenson rather than put them out for bid to give other companies a shot at them.
The mayor’s office responded to that, saying “The beginning and ending points for projects are hard to define, especially when it pertains to a bridge. The JPA has looked at the arena block and has generally assumed that the arena block would be built by Mortenson” and would avoid putting multiple general contractors in a “tiny area.” The bridge will land on the arena block, the mayor’s office said, and the JPA already has an agreement that Mortenson will carry a $25 million liability policy.
“When swinging stuff over active tracks it is in the best interest of the taxpayers to delegate the bridge responsibilities and liabilities, over to Mortenson, given its proximity to active railroad tracks,” the mayor’s press statement said.
Same goes for the civic square on the arena doorstep — the mayor’s office said that will be done by Mortenson. The statement didn’t address why neither the pedestrian bridge nor the civic plaza was mentioned in the original scope of service, but are now being added to Mortenson’s job.
Although the city had advertised for a company that would use the city’s bid process to choose subcontractors, the propposed agreement would allow Mortenson to choose subcontractors to do mechanical electrical and plumbing, structural steel, precast concrete, concrete, exterior walls and vertical transportation — which seems like a big chunk of the work. It appears Mortenson will handle everything except the “receiving” of the bids through the city’s eBid system. But then the proposals will be opened privately — which caused Mortenson some trouble in Kentucky.
In response to that, the mayor’s office released the following statement: “Mortenson has proposed to use the E-bid system. The proposal process will be transparent, which means that the scoring criteria and scorecard will be published with the RFQs and RFPs and the resultant evaluation will be published after award. Mortenson and Hampton will be explaining in greater detail at the JPA meeting tomorrow about how this process would work and how it has been used successfully on other projects. At the end of the day, what we they are proposing is standard and customary practice for CMAR projects. Typically, the selection of the subcontractors are the CMAR’s responsibility to select based on their contractual obligation to guarantee the cost and schedule and provide the best value and quality to the taxpayers.”
In other words, this is the way Mortenson wants to do it, the way they usually do it, in order to keep their promise to come in on, or under, budget.
Mayor Chris Beutler has long promised this project will be open, transparent and fair — but lately, city officials have been backing away from that open and transparent stuff, because it doesn’t seem to fit with Mortenson’s way of doing things.
Note these two grafs in a Nov. 25 Journal Star story:
Jim Martin, hired as program manager to coordinate all aspects of the local arena design and construction, has voiced concerns about using the city’s e-bid system, said Dan Marvin, who represents the city on the arena team.
The city’s e-bid system requires the purchasing department to explain why it is not taking the lowest bid. That process also allows the public to view bids electronically just minutes after they are opened. Too many restrictions may hurt the Mortenson-Hampton team’s efforts to get the project done on time and under the guaranteed price, Marvin said.
You can almost picture Marvin backing away, can’t you?
This agreement is not a done deal. It goes before the arena JPA on Wednesday. Tune in to the city’s Channel 5 at 3 p.m. Wednesday to see what happens. (JPA-Agenda-01-26-11)