- Kelly Yamanouchi The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Several companies have been selected for lucrative contracts running retail shops at the world’s busiest airport, though the city has not yet moved the deals forward for approval amid controversy surrounding the contracting process.
Atlanta procurement officials earlier this year said they planned to get the contracts, which are worth tens of millions of dollars, finalized before Mayor Kasim Reed’s term ends in January.
But that effort has become more tenuous as a federal corruption probe into the city continues, and after questions about a conflict of interest with a concessionaire prompted the city to put an airport executive on leave.
VIDEO: Previous reporting on this issue
It’s all happening while a mayoral election between two Atlanta City Council members looms on Dec. 5, putting a harsh spotlight on airport contracting and raising the political stakes of city council members’ votes.
On Wednesday, at the last regularly scheduled meeting of the council’s transportation committee that oversees the airport, Reed administration officials were non-committal about whether the airport concessions contracts would move forward.
When questioned by City Councilwoman Felicia Moore, Reed’s deputy chief of staff Katrina Taylor Parks said, “There is nothing scheduled to come before this body as I stand here today.”
She had earlier this week told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “everything is under review.”
The uncertainty comes after the Atlanta’s procurement department this month wrote notification letters for the contracts for retail shops.
The biggest contracts would go to The Marshall Retail Group and to a Hudson Group joint venture called HG ATL Retailers Joint Venture, based on the city’s recommendations for contracts.
But the city also recommended Hojeij Branded Foods for a contract and Business Traveler Services for a contract with several small vending locations. Another company, Select Food Group, was recommended for two small contracts.
Meanwhile, the airport said it would rebid four other retail shop contracts after finding too many companies were disqualified.
The letters to the winning firms signed by interim chief procurement officer Susan Garrett start with “Congratulations,” and say the city has completed its evaluation of proposals for the projects and that the city procurement department and airport will recommend to the city council and mayor that contracts be awarded to the companies selected.
However, the retail concessions contracting process has come under scrutiny amid the mayoral race, after multiple candidates prior to the general election called for a halt to the process. They cited the current federal investigation into cash-for-contracts scandals at City Hall. Concessionaires also complained that the process was too rushed as the city sought to get the deals approved before the end of the year.
More recently, an Atlanta airport deputy general manager has been put on leave after the city found his wife owns a company that does business in Washington with Hojeij Branded Foods. People and entities linked to Hojeij have been big contributors to top candidates for mayor, giving at least $66,450, according to an AJC analysis.
A spokeswoman for Reed said last week that the city is “in the process of reviewing all current and pending contracts with the vendor.”
Hojeij said in a statement, “We believe in the integrity of the procurement process and are confident that any awards to HBF will be made based on the merits of our proposal.”
Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager Roosevelt Council said an investigation is ongoing.
On Wednesday, the concessions contracts were not on the transportation committee’s agenda. “We are looking into everything in a thorough manner,” Taylor Parks said.
The administration could seek last-minute approval from the city council at their full meeting scheduled for Monday or at a special called meeting. But that, too, is up in the air.
“I cannot say one way or another whether we will be bringing anything to you for approval,” Taylor Parks said.
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