Wichita Eagle reporting by Bill Wilson uncovers a problem with no-bid contracts for construction projects in Wichita. Fortunately, the city manager recognizes the problem and will propose a partial solution.
Wilson reports on two past Key Construction garage projects that were completed with costs well over their budgets. Key Construction was scheduled to be the no-bid contractor on the upcoming Douglas Place garage, being built largely to provide parking to the Wichita Ambassador Hotel. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent passed by the Wichita City Council.
But when competitively bid, the cost will be almost $1.3 million less. This is a direct savings to taxpayers of the same amount. All members of the council except for Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) voted for the no-bid contract to Key Construction, although Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer was absent. It is certain that he would have voted with the majority, however, as he voted in favor of the letter of intent.
Because of the perverse economic incentives of tax increment financing (TIF) — one of the two financing sources for the garage — it was actually to the benefit of hotel developers and Key Construction to spend as much as possible on the parking garage. See Wichita TIF: Taxpayer-funded benefits to political players for more on this topic.
By the way, Key Construction is part of the Ambassador Hotel development team. Further, the owners and principle executives of Key Construction are generous campaign financiers for both liberal and conservative members of the Wichita City Council. See Wichita City Council campaign contributions and Douglas Place for details on Key Construction political contributions.
This episode illustrates these things: a Wichita City Council almost totally captured by special interests and opportunists, crony capitalism on steroids, and another example of why Wichita and Kansas need pay-to-play laws.
Wichita city manager proposes eliminating no-bid construction projects
By Bill Wilson
The days of awarding construction projects without taking competitive bids might be numbered at City Hall if City Manager Robert Layton has his way, especially with public projects such as parking garages that are part of private commercial development.
Layton said last week that he intends to ask the City Council for a policy change against those no-bid contracts. The contracts became an issue after council members Michael O’Donnell and Pete Meitzner forced the city to take bids on the city-financed 300-stall parking garage adjacent to the privately financed Ambassador Hotel Wichita at Douglas and Broadway. Bids for the garage came in almost $1.3 million under some project estimates, the first publicly financed downtown parking garage in almost 20 years to come in under budget, according to figures from the city’s office of urban development.
How are city council members and the mayor going to raise campaign funds if they don’t have no bid contracts for their downtown developer buddies to benefit from? Did anyone notice how the cost of the parking garage at the highly controversial Ambassador Hotel project dropped over a million $ when it became a bid item?
Other governmental bodies have to get bids. Wichita is once again behind when it comes to prudent use of tax funds.