The general contractor on the massive redevelopment of the former Iberville public housing complex will soon be replaced, officials have confirmed.
Woodward Design + Build, which was hired by master developer HRI Properties to handle the first four construction phases of the project, was not selected to oversee the fifth and sixth phases. Instead, Landis Construction Co. will take on that role.
“HRI issued a (request for proposals) ... to several local general contractors,” said Carolyn Mayo, an HRI spokeswoman. “After reviewing the proposals and conducting interviews, Landis was selected as the lowest (priced) qualified respondent.”
Whether the change is related to a controversy centered on Woodward's use of disadvantaged business enterprises is unclear.
The Housing Authority of New Orleans chose HRI in 2010 to manage the $600 million revamp of Iberville into the mixed-income community now known as Bienville Basin.
HRI later hired Woodward as a contractor, and Woodward in turn chose Nolmar Corp. and Strategic Planning Associates, among other subcontractors, to help it meet HANO's requirement that 20 percent of the work go to disadvantaged business enterprises and 5 percent to women-owned companies.
Those two firms, however, then passed on the majority of their work to other businesses that weren’t certified as DBEs or women-owned businesses. Notably, Nolmar — a firm that Woodward owned a stake in until January 2015 — gave nearly a tenth of its work to two Woodward subsidiaries.
Critics say such “pass-through” arrangements let well-off companies repeatedly profit off public contracts, to the detriment of minority- and women-owned firms.
Woodward officials responded that the Iberville redevelopment came with tough budget constraints and that Woodward’s own subsidiaries were the lowest bidders. They also said HANO approved the arrangement when that agency was managed by a federal receiver. HANO returned to local control in 2014.
HANO closed a probe into the contract in February, chalking up alleged missteps by HRI and its partners to “conflicting interpretations” of HANO’s rules. At the same time, HRI agreed to pay $500,000 to strengthen HANO’s set-aside programs, a donation HANO pledged to match. It also hired DMM & Associates to help it monitor compliance by Woodward.
Both HRI and DMM officials believe Woodward will meet or exceed all HANO requirements in the project’s fourth phase, Mayo said.
After The New Orleans Advocate reported on the HANO probe, the city passed new rules for its own DBE program, requiring that certified DBEs perform most of the value of their subcontracts themselves.
Though it was not selected, Woodward had been wooing minority- and women-owned firms to work on the final phases of the Iberville project as recently as June, which indicates the company believed it would keep the contract. Woodward officials put out a call on June 3 for DBEs and other special groups to bid on the project. Landis was chosen July 15.
In phases five and six, 130 housing units will be constructed, according to HANO.
Landis and Woodward will give an update on their progress meeting DBE goals at a future HANO meeting, officials said.
Woodward will wrap up its work on phase four by 2017. Phases five and six are also expected to be finished that year.