Amid procurement delays, longtime Atlanta airport contractors get extensions

5:43 p.m Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 Business
Atlanta airport officials are seeking City Council approval for a fifth extension of old airport restaurant contracts on Concourse E, saying former chief procurement officer Adam Smith and his successors had raised concerns that delayed the award of contracts to new concessionaires. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport contracting has encountered hiccups as longtime concessionaires get contract extensions.

Atlanta airport officials are seeking City Council approval for a fifth extension of old airport restaurant contracts on Concourse E, saying former chief procurement officer Adam Smith and his successors had raised concerns that delayed the award of contracts to new concessionaires.

Amid an Atlanta City Hall bribery scandal, Smith was fired in Februarypleaded guilty last month as part of a conspiracy and admitted taking bribes for helping a vendor win city contracts.

During a committee discussion about the request for the extension of the old Concourse E contracts, councilman Alex Wan asked about the reason for the “protracted procurement period” for new contracts that prompts the need for the extension. The contracting process started in March 2016, more than a year and a half ago.

“This seems like an awfully long time,” Wan said.

In explaining the delays, Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council pointed to a different city department.

“It’s been up in the Department of Procurement,” he said. “And as you know, there’s been a few leadership changes in the Department of Procurement.”

Companies turned in proposals for the Concourse E restaurants in July 2016.

“When it initially came in, Mr. Smith held it for awhile. He had a few concerns about it,” Council said. “And then when he was superseded by Ms. [Angela] Hinton, she also had some reasons, and I’m not privy to what they were.”

“And now we have a different [interim chief procurement officer], Ms. [Susan] Garrett. And initially she had some smaller issues with it, but she felt comfortable enough to actually move the evaluation through the department,” Council said.

Evaluations of companies’ proposals for airport contracts are conducted byevaluators who work for the city’s Department of Aviation. The Concourse E evaluations started in March 2017, according to airport documents — about nine months after companies submitted the proposals.

Airport officials last year began asking the city council for approval of the first of a series of contract extensions for the Concourse E restaurants, seeking to waive competitive contracting requirements to extend the old restaurant contracts held by Hojeij Branded Foods, Jackmont Hospitality, Global Concessions and McDonald’s franchise owner Goodrum Enterprises. Some of these companies have strong ties to the mayor.

Jackmont Hospitality, which operates restaurants including One Flew South on Concourse E, was founded by former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson’s daughter and is led by Daniel Halpern, who was a co-chairman of Reed’s 2009 mayoral campaign. Hojeij’s Wassim Hojeij was a member of host committees for Reed campaign events, and he and relatives made campaign contributions to Reed.

The contracts were originally struck in 2006 for up to ten years, including a renewal option.

Former Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell, who was fired in May 2016, alleged the delay of the Concourse E restaurant contracting process started as far back as 2015.

After Southwell was fired, his attorney wrote a letter to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed saying the launch of the contracting process for new restaurants on Concourse E was delayed by the procurement department.

Reed responded at the time: “Miguel Southwell is struggling to rescue what remains of his career and this is evident in the fact that he is now making false statements against my Administration and me.” He added that Southwell “never filed a complaint or made the false allegations he now makes today while unemployed.”

Twenty-three firms are competing for new contracts for restaurants on Concourse E, including Hojeij, HMSHost, Atlanta Airport Concessions, Paradies Lagardère, SSP America, Marche Hospitality LLC, Tropical Smoothie Cafe and Willy’s Mexican Grill.

The city has been extending the old contracts until the contracting process is complete.

The most recent extensions would expire in December and February, and airport officials are asking for another extension of up to six months.

Two councilwomen who sit on the finance committee, Felicia Moore and Yolanda Adrean, asked why the additional six-months is needed.

Council, the airport manager, responded: “This is probably just maybe out of an abundance of caution to not have to come back here again” to seek another extension, “just in case we don’t make that time frame.”

He said the airport will also need to go through contract negotiations and allow time for the new restaurants to be built.

The finance committee voted Wednesday in favor of the extension, with six votes in favor and Moore abstaining. The measure next goes to the full council for a vote.

Although it has taken more than a year and a half for the contracting process for the Concourse E restaurants, city officials have been planning to award a massive round of contracts for airport shops throughout much of the airport within a much shorter time frame of less than six months — before Reed leaves office in January, and well before the current contracts expire next year.

“I’m concerned that we continue to extend and extend and extend, not able to finalize the procurement on that, while at the same time they are fast-tracking procurements for those that aren’t even expired yet,” Moore said. “I certainly leave the door open for them to give me a plausible explanation. I don’t have one that satisfies me at this point.”

Some of the companies competing for new Concourse E restaurant contracts have contributed to candidates for mayor of Atlanta.

Hojeij Branded Foods, people associated with Hojeij and their family members contributed at least $64,100 to a variety of mayoral candidates, including $40,900 to Keisha Lance Bottoms, $13,500 to Ceasar Mitchell, $6,000 to Mary Norwood and $3,600 to Kwanza Hall.

SSP America’s John Clark in January and September 2017 contributed to Bottoms, who Reed officially endorsed this month after months of praising her.

In September 2017, people associated with Paradies Lagardère contributed to Norwood, Peter Aman and Bottoms.

People associated with Global Concessions contributed at least $5,000 to Mitchell in December 2016, $2,600 to Bottoms in July 2017 and $1,000 to Hall in July 2017.

Goodrum Enterprises’ Leon Goodrum contributed to Mitchell in June 2016 and January 2017.

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