Hartsfield-Jackson concessions contracts delayed — again

New concessions contracts at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport have again been delayed.

On hold since 2017 because of a federal corruption investigation at Atlanta City Hall, some of the new contracts  were supposed to go out to bid in recent months.

Instead the contracting process for new restaurants on Concourses E and B and shops throughout the airport has yet to move forward.

“We still have vendors that are now a year or two beyond their original contract date and still operating,” said Atlanta city council member Andre Dickens at a committee meeting Wednesday.

The airport is moving to extend contracts for shops in the international terminal and concourses awarded back in 2012.

Hartsfield-Jackson held an airport concessions industry day in March, and city officials said then that they planned to put restaurants out for bid in late April.

They also said they planned to put contracts for 81 shops out for bid this summer.

The lucrative airport contracts have come under scrutiny as part of a federal corruption probe. Last year the city's former chief procurement officer Adam Smith was sentenced as part of that investigation. This year the airport's concessions director was fired for alleged sexual harassment.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms late last year said the contracts would be rebid, with plans for reforms in place to strengthen the city's procedures and grant a fresh start.

The city early this year began using a new electronic procurement process, then launched an independent procurement review office.

At the industry day, airport general manager John Selden pledged a “fair and transparent contract process.”

Dickens said the ongoing delays have been disruptive.

"Not only do you have people interested in bidding upset that they've spent money," Dickens said, but existing operators "are dissatisfied" and unsure whether they should replace aging equipment, and employees who "are restless" because they don't know how much longer their companies will be operating there.

Chief procurement officer David Wilson responded that he would consult with the airport general manager on the schedule.

City officials are under pressure to clean up contracting, and some companies have already had challenges with the new e-procurement process.

Contracting for airport concessions, worth millions of dollars, is particularly contentious and subject to legal challenges by losing bidders.

Separately, the airport is seeking city council approval to extend contracts for duty-free and retail shops on international concourses E and F.

The contracts were awarded in early 2012 for seven-year terms with the option for a three-year extension.

The president of UNITE HERE Local 23, a union that represents airport concessions workers, wrote letters to Bottoms asking her administration to rebid the duty-free contract with Duty Free Americas Peachtree LLC instead of granting the extension.

“The decision to extend contracts issued by a prior administration risks the perception that it is ‘business as usual’ at the airport,” UNITE HERE Local 23 president Marlene Patrick Cooper wrote in one of the letters, sent this week.

Executives with Duty Free Americas are among the campaign contributors to Bottoms’ 2017 campaign for mayor.

In documents, the airport says the initial term expired April 30, 2019 and Duty Free Americas “has successfully operated duty free in many airports.”