Nolmar Corp., the certified disadvantaged business enterprise that has come under fire for funneling most of its work on the $600 million Iberville public housing redevelopment to non-DBE firms, is listed among potential DBE subcontractors on the New Orleans World Trade Center redevelopment project, city officials said Wednesday.
That does not mean Nolmar will be chosen to work on the $364 million WTC project. It does mean that Woodward Design+Build, which is part of the World Trade Center redevelopment team, is considering Nolmar, city spokeswoman Sarah McLaughlin said.
The Housing Authority of New Orleans is investigating whether the firm — accused of assigning more than 90 percent of the value of its Iberville contract to firms not owned by either women or racial minorities and not certified as DBEs — has violated HANO’s contracting policy.
The city is still working to decide how a DBE’s subcontractors count toward overall DBE project participation goals. Although the city has done much to retool its DBE policy in recent years, it has not yet clarified rules on that point.
Such rules are expected by early 2016, McLaughlin said.
HANO is a federally funded, locally controlled agency that has independently set a 20 percent requirement for disadvantaged business enterprise contracting. Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s DBE goal, for projects overseen by the city, is 35 percent.
In the Iberville case, HANO Executive Director Gregg Fortner said a September noncompliance letter from the authority gave HRI — the master developer on the Iberville project — plus Woodward and Nolmar the chance to respond to HANO’s charge. HANO is reviewing HRI’s response, he said.
Nolmar Executive Vice President and General Manager Al Wallace said Wednesday he could not speak directly to the noncompliance claims. But he did say it is difficult, at times, for his firm to find capable DBEs to employ.
“There’s some trades that don’t have as much DBE capability,” he said.
He added that even though Nolmar is listed as a subcontractor on the Iberville project, it acts as a general contractor that subcontracts and oversees much of its work. That work may or may not go to DBEs, depending on the trade, he said.
Asked if he thinks a DBE’s subcontracts should be monitored for DBE compliance, he said, “That’s in the eye of the beholder. But, if it’s a requirement, then it’s a requirement.”
Although it’s not yet clear whether Nolmar will be selected to work on the project to convert the former World Trade Center building into a Four Seasons hotel and condominiums, Nolmar and Woodward have frequently teamed up, sometimes with controversial results.
The duo’s would-be revamp of Edna Karr High School was scuttled last year after it came to light that Nolmar is run by three half-siblings of Orleans Parish School Board member Nolan Marshall Jr. They are Allison Marshall, June Marshall and Robyn Marshall-Wallace, Al Wallace’s wife.
State ethics law generally bans public officials’ immediate family members from entering into contracts or subcontracts under those officials’ jurisdiction. When it comes to contracting, the law is less clear on whether half-siblings are considered to be “immediate family members.” But the Louisiana Board of Ethics opined in a separate hiring case that they are considered close family.
Woodward subsequently sued the School Board. However, a Civil District Court judge ruled that School Board staff members acted within their rights when they tossed out Nolmar’s construction bid.
Also last year there was a potential conflict of interest involving the $546 million Louis Armstrong International Airport terminal project. Woodward was scheduled to be part of the team designing and building that structure. However, it was learned that New Orleans Aviation Board member Gary Smith Sr. is an investor in Sabiston Consultants, a governmental relations firm that works with Woodward.
That fact and protests about Woodward’s alleged poor treatment of women and minorities — allegations that were, largely, deemed unfounded by an arbitrator — caused so much of a stir that Woodward abandoned the project.
Its past aside, the company and its partner, Carpenter and Co., took pains Wednesday to tout their DBE plans for the World Trade Center project.
“The innovative Four Seasons New Orleans DBE program is vastly different from any other program ever used in the city before,” the Woodward-Carpenter team said in a statement.
“The Four Seasons program is based on a different methodology, conceived and executed by different teams and monitored in very different ways. Importantly for the confidence of all parties, this project will be monitored by the City of New Orleans utilizing a specially designed software program that will review every aspect of our DBE program to ensure 100 percent compliance and transparency,” the statement said.
Among a host of ways for ensuring DBE participation, the firms said, their plan will allocate private money to help DBEs that otherwise wouldn’t be able to lower their rates to competitive levels and so would not be able to win subcontracts. They also said they will institute a mentor or joint-venture program so that DBEs may partner with larger firms in major trades.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.