Wednesday, January 5, 2005

A D.C. labor group said it met yesterday with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission to ensure that local contractors would be included in the $18.4 million renovation of RFK Memorial Stadium and to find out why the prime contract for the stadium went to a New York-based construction company.

“They made a lot of pledges, but the proof is in the details and in the follow-up,” said Brian Woolfolk, a lawyer who is representing the Capital Area Minority Contractors and Business Association.

Mr. Woolfolk said after the two-hour meeting that the commission assured the group that local contractors will be hired for the renovation project, which is now headed by Turner Construction Co.

RFK Stadium will be the temporary home for the Washington Nationals baseball team until a new stadium is built by 2008. The sports commission, an independent city agency that operates RFK Stadium, is overseeing the renovation.

Mr. Woolfolk said the group’s representatives asked the commission why Turner was selected over four other bidders to lead the renovation.

The commission said last week it relied on a recommendation from an independent panel in selecting Turner.

Mr. Woolfolk said his group wants to know of any business ties between panel members or the firms they work for and Turner or other companies hired through the RFK contract.

“There was a conflict-of-interest issue that came up, and we discussed our concerns,” Mr. Woolfolk said. “Our concern is the fairness issue and the appropriateness of the contract.”

Yesterday, panel member Philip Artin dismissed those concerns, saying the panel based its decisions on the merits of proposals from each contractor.

McKissack & McKissack, where Mr. Artin works, is owned by the sister of an owner of the McKissack Group Inc., which formed a joint venture with Turner and Keating Construction, called TKM, to manage the recent construction of Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

Mr. Artin said McKissack & McKissack of Washington, D.C., run by Deryl McKissack, is a separate entity from the McKissack Group, which is run by Miss McKissack’s sister, Cheryl.

“The companies are independent,” Mr. Artin said. “Yes, her sister had another company that did business with Turner, but that has nothing to do with me here.”

Another panel member, Robert Busler, who did not return phone messages left last week and yesterday, works for WDG Architecture, but previously was employed by Kansas City, Mo.-based HNTB Cos., which is part of the Turner team hired for the RFK contract.

“None of those relationships are filtered through this because it has no relevance,” Mr. Artin said. “The selection [of Turner Construction] was observed by a process and by legal counsel. We followed the criteria that was set up ahead of time. To imply that there was some sort of impropriety is not fair, to say the least.”

The TKM-managed project in Philadelphia recently faced scrutiny.

A legislative aide for Philadelphia City Council member Richard Mariano said yesterday Mr. Mariano’s staff recently subpoenaed officials with the TKM joint venture, including Turner officials, to find out why some subcontractors in the Philadelphia stadium deal have not been paid on time.

John Lisko, an aide to Mr. Mariano, said some subcontractors aren’t sure who is responsible for paying them because of the various corporate entities in charge of overseeing the stadium construction.

“They’ve set up all of these different areas to effectively deflect liability and, at the end of the day, it’s the smaller contractors who are stomped out,” Mr. Lisko said.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at large independent and an outspoken stadium critic, said yesterday he voted against the RFK renovation contract last month because he did not understand why Turner got the job over other bidders.

“It wasn’t explained,” Mr. Catania said. “How do you privilege one contractor over another?”

Mr. Artin said cost was not the primary factor in the panel’s recommendation. “This was based on how responsive and responsible the company is,” he said. “The main goal was to make sure that the stadium was playable for baseball … by April.”

D.C. contractors also last week questioned whether Turner is planning to meet a provision to hire local, small and disadvantaged business enterprises (LSDBEs) by employing D.C.-based Tompkins Builders, a company Turner recently purchased.

The contract awarded to Turner states that the company agrees to “use its commercial best efforts” to hire local companies to complete 35 percent of the renovation project and to ensure a labor force made up of at least 42 percent minorities.

Telephone messages left with Allen Y. Lew, executive director of the sports commission, were not returned yesterday.

Last week, D.C. City Administrator Robert C. Bobb told The Washington Times that Tompkins could stay on the project. But he said that Turner could not count any dollars it pays to Tompkins toward satisfying the 35 percent local hiring provision.

Meanwhile, offers from the private sector to help build a new baseball stadium in the District have been slow to reach the office of D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi.

As part of the ballpark legislation, the city will formally review private-financing structures as part of a goal to fund at least half of the ballpark construction without public money.

John Ross, senior adviser to Mr. Gandhi, yesterday declined to specify the number of offers received so far, but said most of the submissions will happen at or near the Jan. 18 deadline.

“Right now, it’s slow, but predictably so,” Mr. Ross said. “We wouldn’t expect to see a lot yet. But I do expect we’ll get some rather clever ideas from the private sector.”

• Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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