One of the losing bidders for a city contract to take over the former World Trade Center building is now accusing city consultants of having had improper contact with the developers who ultimately landed the deal.
Two Canal Street Investors Inc. filed suit last month, claiming that City Hall’s process for awarding the contract violated public lease law, lacked transparency and showed favoritism toward the winning team, Carpenter & Co. and Woodward Design + Build.
Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase denied the company’s request that she block Mayor Mitch Landrieu from signing the lease agreement.
Now, in its latest court filing, Two Canal Street asks the judge to scrap the deal based on email conversations between members of the Carpenter team and employees of Jones Lang LaSalle, one of two firms hired as consultants for a five-member panel that picked the winning Four Seasons Hotel project from among 10 bidders. The city provided the emails to Two Canal in response to a public-records request.
One email suggests that a JLL consultant and a senior vice president at Four Seasons discussed the project shortly after the Carpenter team’s response to a request for qualifications landed it on the city’s short list but before an official request for proposals was issued.
“What is curious about this is there should be no reason for the city’s consultant to call one of the potential bidders to discuss the New Orleans project before the RFP is released,” Two Canal attorney Daniel Davillier wrote in the court filing. “This is suggestive of possible collusion on the contents of the” request for proposals.
A spokesman for the city said the consulting firms were tasked with communicating with the bidders on behalf of the selection committee.
“The procurement process detailed in the RFP explicitly stated that Jones Lang LaSalle would have contact and negotiate with the proposers,” Brad Howard said. “There were no improper communications.”
The court filing also claims that the consultants showed “unusual deference” to the Carpenter team by offering more time to discuss the project with them and by using a formula suggested by that team to evaluate all of the proposals.
Two Canal argues that the resulting financial evaluation conducted by Jones Lang LaSalle and the law firm Stone Pigman overinflated the value of Carpenter’s proposal, which calls for a 350-room Four Seasons hotel with 76 hotel-serviced condominiums.
Two Canal will have a chance to convince Chase to shut the project down at a hearing Tuesday.
Landrieu signed the 99-year lease May 7, hours after it was approved by the New Orleans City Council. Carpenter is expected to begin the $364 million construction project this fall, with a grand opening date expected in December 2017.
Two Canal’s latest filing asks the court to bar the developers from closing the financial deal and starting construction.
The lawsuit does not name the individual consultants. Defendants include the city, Chief Procurement Officer Mary Kay Kleinpeter-Zamora and the New Orleans Building Corp. The NOBC is a public benefit corporation that acts as landlord for the city-owned site.