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.
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.
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 West Haymarket arena project finally has its own website — aside from the one the city had been maintaining. Click here to see it.
You’re paying for it, so what do you think? The board that is handling financing and construction of the arena bought it — along with this Facebook page — for $24,000. They were created by the Thought District, a Lincoln company.
I teased them a bit for budgeting like $1,500 just for the Facebook page, but I guess somebody has to keep that baby updated, so that’s probably not so bad.
I think it looks nice and professional (as opposed to the old site) but it really doesn’t have much more than the Lincoln Journal Star already had on its site (much of which I gave them to put there). The LJS had pretty much all of those same documents and maps and so on in the months leading up to the spring election.
But they should be there. However, even though they say the website’s purpose is to ensure the project’s transparency, clearly it’s a marketing tool — the latest rendition of the YES campaign’s work. They even used the same green YES campaign style.
Then again, what sense would there be in the city spending money to foment more debate over whether to build the arena? That ship has sailed.
As an aside, even though the arena won’t open until 2013, the concert industry is slipping now, according to this Wall Street Journal article.
This is a good example of how a journalist should cover job projections for arena and stadium projects. Nice to see I’m not the only reporter/blogger skeptical of the job projections that get thrown around when somebody’s trying to get a stadium/arena built!
CSL, by the way, did several feasibility studies for Lincoln before the city voted to build a new arena last spring. And Mortenson Construction was chosen to be the construction manager for Lincoln’s $340 million arena project.
It’s also worth noting that a consultant (hired by Lincoln) projected the arena project would create nearly 8,000 jobs — the same number of jobs a new Vikings stadium has been projected to create, even though that project would cost $954 million — nearly three times as much as Lincoln’s.
I did a lot of research into the jobs and economic development projections that were heavily touted during Lincoln’s arena campaign. (Remember this story?)
Boy, did that story ever stir up some people. The editor edited it with a fine-toothed comb and we locked horns over some of the things he took out. The final version that was printed was not how I would have written it, but at least it was published.
Let’s just say when all the big hitters in town are behind a big project, editors get very antsy about stories that question the assumption.
It only took about a week for Mayor Chris Beutler’s office to finally divulge who paid for nine people — including the mayor and city arena contractors — to fly around the Midwest looking at arenas in late October.
That wasn’t so hard, was it?
For some reason, Beutler’s office didn’t want to tell me who paid for the trip when I wrote about it a week ago.
However, a reporter isn’t completely helpless when a public official refuses to disclose public information. There’s this thing called the open records law, (Beutler ought to know about this, having been a state senator for like 24 years) and on Monday, I put in what’s called an open records request. That gave the mayor’s office four working days to respond to my request for information about the trip (particularly, who paid for it).
Their deadline is tomorrow. So what did they do today? Gave up the information. To the Journal Star. Touche’!
And now we know the answer: Nelnet paid for the trip. I’m not sure why the trip needed to be paid for by an outside company in the first place, nor why a student loan company would be the one to pay for it, but there it is.
The Journal Star story didn’t say how much the trip cost Nelnet, but did mention how uncomfortable the flight was for two members of the delegation who had to take turns sitting on a toilet in the Nelnet jet.
This is the mayor’s office works. They don’t like the fact that I’ve asked these questions, but they’re backed into a corner by state law, so they strike back by handing the story to the Journal Star.
That’s OK with me, as long as the information gets out. One way or another.
But I still don’t get why they would be flying around looking at the width of seats and “integrating an arena in a brick environment” when 30 percent of the arena design — if not more — was supposed to be done by now. The arena architects have already told us how wide the seats will be and if they haven’t begun to think about how to integrate the arena with the Haymarket, well they’re way behind schedule.
And why was the mayor the only one who didn’t pay for his own hotel room? The city paid for his, according to the J-Star.
But never mind all that. The important thing is that the mayor finally told the public who paid for the trip. Thank you.
A recent Journal Star editorial lambasted a Virginia group for “pouring thousands of dollars into attack ads” in the November election and then refusing to report their campaign expenditures, claiming their campaign was “purely educational” since they didn’t urge a vote for or against a certain candidate.
This made me wonder where the editorial writers were earlier this year, when Vision 2015ers were pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the University of Nebraska Foundation’s UNF Charitable Fund, which spent about $200,000 on radio and TV ads supporting passage of the arena project.
They, too, claimed it was an “educational campaign,” but if you saw those ads with Tom Osborne, I think it was pretty clear which way T.O. wanted you to pull the lever.
It was a circuitous way to get their message across, but it also enabled Vision 2015ers donate money to the pro-arena campaign in a way that made it impossible to know who donated how much. And the beauty of it all was that since the money was going into a “charitable fund,” all those donations were tax-deductible.
To quote from the Journal Star editorial, about the Virginia group: “That robs Nebraskans of the opportunity to find out what sort of people are trying to influence their vote.”
Several accountants contacted me questioning the legality of a nonprofit “charity” spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote a ballot question. Some complained to Attorney General Jon Bruning, who has authority over non-profits, but he certainly had a conflict of interest in the matter, since he was promoting the arena all over the airwaves. (Remember those heart-warming nonpartisan ads with Bruning and Beutler?)
When Bruning participated in a pro-arena press conference toward the end of the campaign, I asked him about what he’d done in response to those complaints about the UNF Charitable Fund. He said he’d never heard about them, but promised that if any violations were found, he’d do something about it regardless of his personal support for the arena.
“I call it like I see it,” he told me. “The law is the law.”
A few days later, he emailed me to say that it was more of an IRS issue.
But you didn’t read about any of that in the Journal Star. Why? The editor said it wasn’t important enough to write about before the election.
That’s one of those moments where a reporter does her best to fight for a story, and then bites her tongue til it bleeds. Because I was not stupid, or easy to push around. Or both.