Hartsfield-Jackson cancels contracting for new restaurants

After ordering from Burger King, one of three eateries open in the domestic terminal lobby, an individual carries his food away from the gated dining area at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
After ordering from Burger King, one of three eateries open in the domestic terminal lobby, an individual carries his food away from the gated dining area at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Hartsfield-Jackson International has halted the bidding process for new contracts for airport restaurants, citing the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Contracting for airport concessions had already been delayed for years amid a federal investigation into Atlanta City Hall corruption.

In recent months, with a more than 80% decline in passenger traffic, the airport has closed some concourses — including international Concourse E, where many of the locations up that were up for bid are located.

"The bids were postponed due to the impact that COVID 19 has had on demand," according to Hartsfield-Jackson spokeswoman Elise Durham.

Also temporarily shuttered are Concourses B and parts of Concourses T and C.

The bids for a total of about two dozen food and beverage locations were originally due in March, but the deadline had been extended until June 17.

The contracts are expected to be rebid, but Durham said in an e-mail she doesn’t yet have a time frame for when that will happen.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms pledged in late 2018 to rebid the contracts in 2019, but the process didn't start until 2020. Hundreds of restaurateurs and concessionaires filled a hall at the Georgia International Convention Center in January to learn about the opportunity to bid for the 10-year contracts.

Many have waited for years for the chance to bid on contracts at the world's busiest airport, through contracting delays dating back to 2016 during then-Mayor Kasim Reed's administration. Some of the existing concessionaires have gotten multiple contract extensions as a result. Also still pending is the rebid of contracts for new retail shops throughout the airport, delayed since 2017.

In 2018, Atlanta's former chief procurement officer Adam Smith was sentenced to prison for his role in a cash-for-contracts scandal.

After that, David Wilson was appointed to the position, but there's been yet another change, according to city documents. Martin Clarke now leads the department as interim chief procurement officer.

In January, former city contract compliance director Larry Scott was sentenced to two years in prison after admitting to being paid more than $220,000 for helping companies to get government contracts.

Last month, an airport contractor pleaded guilty to bribery for paying $20,000 to a city of Atlanta procurement official in 2017 for a contract at Hartsfield-Jackson.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned that the official was Mano Smith, a senior procurement manager whose team handled airport contracts. Smith was fired by the city last month.