A partnership between companies from California and Brazil won an evaluation committee’s approval Thursday to oversee construction of Louis Armstrong International Airport’s new $500 million-plus terminal, largely on the basis of the team’s commitment to bid out most of the work to local subcontractors and its track record on similar projects.
The recommendation of Parsons Odebrecht breaks a deadlock created when the committee tried to issue a recommendation last week but wound up with identical scores for that team and a more ad hoc consortium including Hunt Construction Group, of Indianapolis, and several local companies.
Additional approvals are necessary before the selection becomes official, but the committee’s action likely means Parsons Odebrecht will be responsible for building the $546.5 million terminal on the north side of the airport property.
The project, a major priority of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, would replace the existing terminal with a smaller building that is cheaper to operate — allowing the airport to lower fees to airlines and potentially attract more flights to New Orleans — in time for the city’s tricentennial in 2018.
Parsons Odebrecht, which is working with New Orleans-based Woodward Design + Build on the project, benefited Thursday from skepticism among committee members over the Hunt group’s qualifications after a second round of public interviews with representatives of the companies.
Committee members also raised concerns that Hunt’s proposed partners in the venture — local construction-industry heavyweights Boh Bros. Construction LLC, Gibbs Construction and Metro Services Group — would end up doing much of the work themselves.
That would mean fewer opportunities for smaller firms, particularly those owned by minorities or women, to benefit from the project and could lead to higher construction costs, some committee members said.
“I see one team that’s heavily loaded with folks who can do the work, while the other is going to look for people in the community who are going to do the work,” said Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant, a committee member.
Grant had the most dramatic change of opinion between last week’s meeting and Thursday’s. While he scored Parsons Odebrecht higher both times, Grant awarded the Hunt group 20 fewer points on a scale of 100 in Thursday’s evaluation.
Grant also criticized the Hunt group because he said its project manager does not have experience with the type of contract being used for the project, which gives the principal company more direct responsibility for controlling costs than under other types of contracts.
Project supervisor Laverne McSwain raised similar concerns in her reassessment of the Hunt proposal, dropping that team’s score by 10 points.
“I can’t help but think there will be a learning curve on behalf of the Hunt team,” McSwain said during the meeting.
Three other committee members also reduced their assessment of Hunt since last week, with only New Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin giving Hunt a slight increase in its score.
In the end, Parsons Odebrecht scored 1,002 points out of a possible 1,100, compared with the Hunt group’s 956. Last week, the two groups tied with 999 points each.
In both rounds, each of the 11 members of the selection committee scored the two bidding teams in five areas: their history, qualifications, approach, price and compliance with ordinances aimed at promoting businesses owned by minorities and women. Together, those categories added up to 100 points for each member.
Five members of the selection committee were appointed by the Landrieu administration. The group also included officials from the airport and other public entities.
Under the terms of the bidding, both firms submitted proposals using the entire $546.5 million budgeted for the project. Part of the committee’s assessment considered how much of that money would be spent on construction and how much on fees for the company or other nonconstruction costs. The aim of such a bid process is to maximize the amount of value the airport is getting for a specific price.
In that area, Hunt seemed to have a significant edge, with about $14 million more slated to go toward direct construction costs. However, Parsons Odebrecht officials disputed that assessment, arguing that the two companies were counting some costs in different categories, potentially making such analysis a matter of comparing apples to oranges.
Parsons Odebrecht officials stressed their long-standing partnership and the work they have done in other cities, including turning around a struggling airport project in Miami.
“We’ve been married with Parsons for 13 years,” Odebrecht President and CEO Gilberto Neves said. “We can hit the ground running. You will expect a lot of learning curve on the other team because they’ve never worked together.”
The company has had a New Orleans office for years, and Paul Flower, of Woodward Design + Build, stressed that 36.8 percent of the preconstruction work would be going to minority- or women-owned businesses — known as disadvantaged business enterprises — in the New Orleans or Baton Rouge areas. If Woodward is included in that calculation, 48 percent of the money would go to local firms.
The Hunt group’s proposal included roughly 45 percent ownership by local or disadvantaged businesses, according to its presentation.
In addition to touting the benefits his company would bring to the actual construction, Neves suggested that Parsons Odebrecht could provide other benefits, such as staging the project so that different parts of the terminal could be opened at different times, generating more attention to the project.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.