A shake-up in the organization of one of the ventures vying to build Louis Armstrong International Airport’s new terminal has bumped one of the state’s largest minority-owned engineering firms up to a full partner in the project, while dropping a firm that had been a source of controversy.
When the team that had been organized as Parsons Odebrecht submits a proposal for the $546.5 million terminal next month, it will do so as NOLA Airport Builders, a new joint venture that now includes a seat for Royal Engineers and Consultants at the head of the table and leaves out Woodward Design+Build.
That reorganization seems aimed at shoring up the company’s weak points even as it doubles down on the themes that received a positive reception the first time it faced off against Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro, a competing joint venture that includes several local firms.
“We’re assembled a best-in-class team,” said Dwayne Bernal, president of Royal Engineers.
NOLA Airport Builders and Hunt Boh Gibbs Metro are now drafting their second proposals to build the new terminal after the New Orleans Aviation Board decided to restart the bidding process last month.
That decision came after an evaluation committee first gave the two teams identical scores before later recommending the venture then known as Parsons Odebrecht. That led to a protest by Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro, which argued it should have won in the first evaluation round.
The Aviation Board decided to restart the process at that point, with officials saying they did not want there to be a perception of impropriety — or the possibility of a lawsuit — as the project moved forward.
An evaluation committee will rate the new proposals in early August before forwarding a recommendation to the Aviation Board, which will make the formal selection.
Both teams were expected to alter their proposals after the Aviation Board decided to scrap the initial round. Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro has not yet discussed any details of its second proposal or announced any changes to its team.
Making Royal Engineers, which is based in New Orleans, a full partner in a joint venture whose other members are based in California and Brazil could potentially blunt some of the arguments made by its competition.
Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro has stressed that three-quarters of the partners in its joint venture are local firms and that one, Metro Services Group, is a New Orleans-based, minority-owned business. Hunt Construction is based in Indianapolis, while Gibbs Construction and Boh Bros. Construction are prominent local contractors.
At the same time, removing Woodward, which is based in New Orleans, will remove a potential source of controversy. Bernal said the company’s decision to pull out of the joint venture was the result of issues not directly related to the project but which could have caused “a distraction.”
While not a full partner in the joint venture, Woodward was one of the most prominent firms associated with the Parsons Odebrecht bid, and its president and chief executive officer, Paul Flower, served as one of the main sources of information on that proposal for both the media and the evaluation panel.
But as the Aviation Board considered the competing bids, activists pointed to a 2010 lawsuit that alleged racial discrimination on a job site overseen by the company. Flower denied those allegations.
Woodward’s presence on the team also presented a potential conflict of interest for Gary Smith Sr., a member of the Aviation Board. Smith is an investor in Sabiston Consultants, a governmental relations firm that works with Woodward. That business relationship appears to violate state ethics laws that prohibit public servants from receiving income from firms that do business with, or are bidding on contracts from, their agencies.
Smith and airport officials declined to comment on Woodward’s status Monday, citing the ongoing selection process.
Bernal did not go into details Monday about the joint venture’s second proposal, which is due later this month. However, he stressed that Parsons Corp. and Odebrecht have a 13-year history of working on similar projects, including new terminals at Miami International Airport.
That history won the group high marks in the first round, as did the fact that its leadership had experience dealing with the specific type of contract, known as a “construction manager at-risk,” called for on the Armstrong Airport project. That type of contract puts additional responsibilities on the company managing the project and requires that it cover any cost overruns.
During the first round, Parsons Odebrecht officials noted the proposed project manager for Hunt Gibbs Boh Metro had never overseen that type of project.
Bernal also stressed the NOLA Airport Builders venture’s $2 billion bonding capacity, which also was well-received by the evaluation committee.
The participating companies’ experience with similar projects would allow the joint venture to work more effectively, particularly in the pre-construction phases that are most important for determining whether the job will come in on time and on budget, Bernal said.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants the terminal completed in time for the city’s tricentennial in 2018.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.