Proposals are due today from firms interested in landing what could be a lucrative contract to serve as project manager for the $450 million renovation of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
ASM, the company that manages the Superdome for the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, issued a solicitation for proposals on December 23 to a list of select firms it invited to compete for the contract.
Interested firms had just 14 business days, including Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, to respond.
It is not clear how many firms or teams of firms were invited to submit proposals for the contract, which could be worth at least $20 million, and ASM officials won’t say.
But they don’t have to nor did they publicly advertise the solicitation, because the procurement is not subject to state public bid laws—even though state taxpayers will be picking up most of the tab for the renovation of the 44-year-old Superdome.
According to the terms of a deal negotiated last summer, the LSED will put up $210 million for the project and the state will put up $90 million, though it has not yet identified the source of that funding. That means two-thirds of the $450 million project will be publicly funded.
The New Orleans Saints have committed to covering the other one-third of the cost, or $150 million.
Mike Hoss, a spokesman for the project, says while public funds will pay for much of the renovation, the contract for project manager is a professional services contract being issued by ASM—not the state or the LSED, which is a state entity, albeit an independent one. Therefore, it doesn’t have to follow the same rules as a public entity.
“This is the engagement of a program manager, which falls under the ASM contract with the LSED,” Hoss says. “ASM is hiring the program manager, so we aren’t required to have the same kind of solicitation process as if it were a public entity.”
ASM is the successor company to longtime Superdome and Raising Cane’s River Center manager SMG.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office confirms the procurement is for professional services being issued by a private company and does not need to be publicly or competitively bid.
But the way the deal is being handled is generating considerable buzz among engineering and consulting firms that typically compete for such work, both in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Firms that wanted a chance to compete and were not invited to submit proposals have privately questioned why the procurement for such a large, quasi-public project was not more open or transparent, though they decline to comment for attribution.
They also question the timing of the invitation—two days before Christmas, and the expedited deadline for responses, which is not unheard of in procurements but is a tighter window than is typical for a project of such magnitude.
Meanwhile, firms that have been invited to compete—including some well-known names around Baton Rouge—are closely following developments in hopes they may land the deal. Among them is CSRS, which is teaming up on its proposal with Baton Rouge-based GoTech and also a large, national firm with experience in stadium and arena work.
HNTB, itself a national firm that does a lot of work on the Gulf Coast and in Baton Rouge, also is planning to submit a proposal. It also has an impressive portfolio of stadium work.
CSRS principal Tim Barfield says his firm has been working hard to diversify its portfolio and has been eyeing potential opportunities in New Orleans and elsewhere for months, but he says he did not expect the invitation to compete for the Superdome contract to come almost out of the blue the day before Christmas Eve.
“We were surprised this opportunity came forward but we were thrilled,” he says. “We’ve been working our tail off to get the proposal ready. It’s always hard when you put something like this together this time of year, but I can see plausible reason for doing it this way.”
According to the solicitation documents, interviews will be held Wednesday and Thursday, with notice of selection and award on January 23.
The Superdome renovation is being undertaken to keep the Saints in Louisiana for decades to come. Trahan Architects, which relocated from Baton Rouge to New Orleans several years ago, is the project architect. New Orleans-based Broadmoor is the general contractor.