Local group gets nod to build N.O. airport terminal

Second attempt at selection reverses recommendation

A committee evaluating proposals to build a new terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport reversed the decision of its predecessor Thursday, recommending a joint venture composed largely of New Orleans-area contracting heavyweights over a group with both international and local partners.

The recommendation, which came after more than five hours of presentations, questions and public comment, makes Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro the favorite to land the $546.5 million project.

The approach the Hunt Gibbs group would take toward managing the project and the amount of fees, profit and overhead that it proposes to charge apparently won over members of the evaluation committee.

In the second attempt to select a company to build the new terminal, the committee gave a decisive nod to the Hunt Gibbs group. That’s the opposite of what a different committee recommended on a previous attempt to decide between proposals by that joint venture and a competing firm that now goes by the name NOLA Airport Builders.

On Thursday, the nine-member panel gave Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro a total of 822 points out of a possible 900 — 100 from each member — while NOLA Airport Builders was awarded 787 points.

Most of the difference between the two scores came from two areas: evaluating the price of the projects and the approach each team would take.

The partnership between Indianapolis-based Hunt Construction and three New Orleans companies — Gibbs Construction, Boh Bros. Construction and Metro Services Group — stressed its partners’ local roots Thursday.

Its presentation started with shots of the city’s landmarks over a brass band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It was a theme that members of the group returned to again and again. Sometimes, those references were largely aimed at establishing a home field advantage, but more practical issues were raised, as well, such as the group’s experience in dealing with local contractors.

“Vote for New Orleans. Vote for this team, please,” said Larry Gibbs, of Gibbs Construction.

This was the second time that basically the same two bidders have faced off for the contract.

In the first set of proposals, Parsons-Odebrecht, a joint venture made up of most of the same companies that eventually regrouped as NOLA Airport Builders, received the top recommendation from a different evaluation committee. Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro raised questions about that process, however, and the New Orleans Aviation Board voted to scrap the process and start from scratch.

In the second round, Parsons-Odebrecht parted ways with two contractors, one of which had been criticized because of a lawsuit claiming one of its employees had made racist comments and which also had business connections to a member of the Aviation Board. The reorganization also bumped Royal Engineers, a minority-owned firm, up to a full partner.

The Aviation Board must still confirm the evaluation committee’s decision before it becomes official. It remains to be seen whether NOLA Airport Builders will protest the new recommendation.

A key element of both proposals was the amount of work that would go to so-called disadvantaged business enterprises, generally meaning firms owned by ethnic minorities and women.

Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro promised 41 percent of the pre-construction work would go to DBE firms, while NOLA Airport Builders said more than 45 percent of the work would go to firms fitting that classification.

Both joint ventures had to commit to giving more than 33 percent of the work during the construction phase to DBE firms. Those jobs will be publicly bid once the project reaches that phase.

Hunt Boh Gibbs Metro also pledged to spend $2 million on workforce development and assisting smaller businesses and DBE firms, a sum that impressed some members of the committee. NOLA Airport Builders said it would partner with the Urban League of New Orleans for similar purposes, but it did not say how much it would spend on that partnership.

Several members of the evaluation committee said the Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro proposal would provide a better value for the airport.

The terms of the proposal called for both teams to present proposals using the entire budget for the project. They were then evaluated based on how much of that budget would go into so-called “bricks and mortar” and how much would end up as profit, fees or overhead.

Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro’s proposal called for spending $518.6 million directly on construction, though the scoring sheets given to members of the committee allowed them to count the $2 million in workforce development as a construction cost on top of that total. NOLA Airport Builders planned to spend $520 million on construction.

Hunt Gibbs would take less in fees, profits and other costs, however. Its proposal called for spending only $21.4 million on those costs, while NOLA Airport Builders would have spent $22.7 million.

Price became an issue during the last evaluation round, when some committee members scored both proposals the same on price, even though airport officials said Hunt Gibbs’ proposal included $14 million more in money for the buildings themselves. That eventually factored into the joint venture’s protest of the committee’s vote recommending Parsons-Odebrecht.

This round, airport officials left it to members of the committee to do their own analysis based on figures from the proposals.

Committee members, in their notes on the scoring sheets, also gave Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro credit for what they described as a clear and efficient plan for getting the project completed on time and on budget.

“We never miss a guaranteed opening day,” said Matt Barnes, the proposed project manager.

Company officials also touted their experience working on airports in Atlanta, Denver and Indianapolis.

During the presentation, Barnes said that Hunt has worked on numerous airports in the past and has had no budget or schedule problems. At least three times, he said, the firm has transferred all operations from an old terminal to its replacement overnight.

When asked about that, officials with NOLA Airport Builders said pulling off such a task would be difficult and suggested a more gradual move to the new terminal.

Overall, nearly all the evaluation committee members, who included city, state and airport officials and independent experts, gave a higher score to Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro.

Barry Hickman, an architect and senior manager with the state Department of Facilities Planning and Control, was the only committee member who scored NOLA Airport Builders’ proposal significantly higher than Hunt Gibbs’, awarding them 10 more points out of 100.

Derrick Muse, the city’s deputy director of finance, and Vincent Smith, the city’s capital projects director, each awarded NOLA Airport Builders one point more than the competition.

For their part, NOLA Airport Builders stressed their member firms’ experience working on airports around the globe and on numerous projects in the New Orleans area, including for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Saying that most of its members already are used to working together, the group raised questions about whether Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro would be able to work as efficiently and whether Hunt, which was recently purchased by another company, could be relied on to complete the job.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.