Challenges, costs continue on Atlanta airport contracts

The legal battle over concessions contracts at the Atlanta airport isn’t over.

A concessionaire that lost out on the massive round of restaurant contracts for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is seeking a court hearing to challenge the city’s contracting process.

Separately, the city is paying $300,000 to another losing concessionaire, Midfield Concessions Enterprises Inc., to settle that company’s claims against the city. It was part of a group that bid for restaurant spaces and after losing claimed the process was flawed.

The airport awarded new contracts earlier this year for restaurant and retail spots throughout the world’s busiest airport, including the just-opened international terminal. The deals are worth more than $3 billion in revenue over 10 years.

In a filing in Fulton County Superior Court, concessionaire SSP America Inc. argues some winning concessionaires had errors in their proposals, adding that some proposals did not meet requirements for disadvantaged business participation. SSP also argues there were problems with evaluations; that concessions director Paul Brown, who also served as an evaluator, had conflicts of interest; and that SSP should have been able to subpoena Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed as a witness, among other claims.

SSP’s protest was first denied by city procurement chief Adam Smith, and Smith’s decision was upheld by an administrative appeals hearing officer appointed by the mayor. SSP is seeking judicial review of the hearing officer’s decision. If the company wins a judge’s ruling that the hearing officer’s decision was made in error, it would be up to the city how to respond.

Ken Hodges, who represents SSP, said the taking the matter to Superior Court is “the first time we’re appealing to a neutral forum” on this matter.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed said the filing continues SSP’s “baseless allegations against the city’s open and transparent procurement process.”

Separately, SSP also has filed motions in court over open records and open meetings issues in the concessions contracting, claiming the city failed to give it public documents when it requested them and that evaluators should have complied with requirements for open meetings.

Hodges said the high cost of a legal fight can “deter legitimate bidders from challenging the system.” SSP posted a bond for $272,000 to protest the five large airport restaurant contract awards.

In the Midfield Concessions case, the city council earlier this month approved the settlement. The council resolution said the city attorney determined the city’s potential financial exposure -- including attorneys’ fees and costs for its defense -- “is far in excess” of the settlement amount.