Airport contracts still stirring protest

Three losing companies had already protested the awarding of lucrative concessions contracts at the Atlanta airport -- even before Tuesday’s city council vote -- and all three protests were denied by the city’s top purchasing manager.

Atlanta officials had predicted protests from companies who lost out. The list of winners was disclosed last month.

According to the city, the companies that have already protested are SSP America, which lost on restaurant contracts, as well as Hudson Retail Group and Pacific Gateway Concessions, which failed to win contracts for airport shops.

Specifics of their complaints were not available, and the companies did not respond to calls from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We know this is going to be challenged,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told the City Council on Tuesday during lengthy discussion.

It is not clear how further complaints might affect contracts for the new Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal, which airport officials hope to open in May with new concessionaires in place. However it’s not expected that they would stop progress toward the opening.

Reed plans to sign legislation as soon as Thursday allowing the city to sign contracts with businesses selected to run 126 restaurants and bars and 24 retail shops in the new terminal and elsewhere at the world’s busiest airport. The establishments could generate an estimated $347 million per year in gross sales.

Adam Smith, the city’s procurement chief, said he denied all three protests. The companies can appeal in front of a hearing officer.

Smith said he denied one of the protests because the company did not submit the required bond, another because the proposal did not fulfill requirements and a third because the protest lacked substance.

Smith said the city has also received a number of open records requests regarding the selection process. Companies often seek records to gather information for protests or appeals.

A separate legal dispute involving airport contracts has swung back and forth between the city and a company, Travelex, which submitted a proposal to run foreign currency exchange services but lost.

In December, a Fulton County judge denied an emergency motion that would have forced the city to disclose all proposals for the exchange services contract. Travelex wanted to get its competitors’ proposals under the Georgia Open Records Act.

On Wednesday, the same judge issued an order temporarily blocking Reed from signing the currency exchange contract, though it does not stop him from signing the retail and eatery deals.

During this week’s discussion of the latter, Reed’s administration urged the City Council to help the city limit its legal risk -- in part by voting on the raft of concessions contracts together, and in part by keeping much of the information about the proposals private to maintain attorney-client privilege.

Some critics said the process was rushed at the end, but councilman Howard Shook of Buckhead said delaying a vote would not assuage companies that lost out on potentially lucrative contracts. Shook voted to approve the legislation.

“Whether council votes on an ordinance tomorrow or a year from tomorrow, you can’t have winners without having losers,” Shook said last month. “People are going to be upset, regardless. If we wait a week, a month, are the losers suddenly going to be less unhappy? I don’t think they will.”

The Fulton County Taxpayers Association this week requested a variety of information from the city under Georgia’s open records law, including the names of people appointed to the contract selection panel and minutes from its meetings.

Reed’s promise last June to release the names of city employees who worked on a contract evaluation panel “in a few weeks” was part of his pledge to promote a transparent process at an airport whose past includes a bribery scandal related to concessions in the 1990s.

Common Cause Georgia, a watchdog group, accused Reed of going back on his word by not following through yet.

At Tuesday’s council meeting Reed and his allies hit back, with councilman H. Lamar Willis accusing Common Cause Georgia of impugning the city and showing disrespect to the mayor. Reed’s administration blamed the delays on a round of proposals that was thrown out in September because of missing documents.

On Dec. 15, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution filed its own request for a document with the names of the panelists, along with those individuals’ job classifications and titles.

Reed’s staff said the names will be released shortly after he signs the legislation authorizing the contracts. The city’s lawyers said the information did not have to be disclosed until then.

“I’m going to release it and honor my commitment,” Reed said Tuesday.


Proposals for airport contracts were graded on criteria including business plan, financial capability, and overall project experience and performance. Every winning proposal earned a score of 905 or higher out of a possible 1,000.

Scoring sheets obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show that winners posted the highest score in all but two cases. In total, nine food and beverage “packages” and two retail packages were up for grabs.

Vida Velocity Management LLC won a food and beverage package with a score of 790, despite coming in second behind a company called Global Concessions, which earned a score of 895 out of a possible 1,000. A company called Mack II Inc. also won a food and beverage contract, despite coming in ten points behind Global Concessions’ score of 915.

Companies could compete for multiple food and beverage packages, but wins were limited to give smaller, Atlanta-based businesses chances to win.

Vida Velocity was able to win its spot because Global Concessions, which put together a string of high-scoring proposals, indicated that its first choice was another package elsewhere in the airport, said City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, who was briefed on the process. Global Concessions won a food and beverage package.