Courthouse Haggling Begins, Arcadis Report Still Confidential
After selecting a preferred design/build team to develop a new downtown court facility, city officials now begin formal contract negotiations. Meanwhile, most details behind the City Council's decision remain confidential.
The Fredericksburg City Council could approve a contract to develop a new downtown court facility by early October, according to City Manager Beverly Cameron. Yesterday, Cameron announced that the City Council had reached a consensus on a preferred design/build team for the new court facility, declaring a proposal submitted by First Choice Public-Private Partners its preferred option.
"I would expect that we can complete the contract negotiations by next month and bring that back for council approval," said Cameron in an interview.
He says any contract negotiated with First Choice would address three areas: legal concepts and language within the contract, "business terms" (read: price), and what Cameron describes as the scope of the work to be completed and other miscellaneous items.
"There are still elements of the scope of work which need refinement," said Cameron. "We need to sit down with the highest ranked firm and hammer out those details, at least as best we can in this point in time, before design work commences."
The City Council had reached its consensus during a two hour closed-door work session on Tuesday evening at City Hall. No formal vote was taken during that closed session, but a majority of the City Council indicated its preference for First Choice.
City staff, acting on the consensus of the council, will now move forward with formal contract negotiations with First Choice to prepare a contract for the City Council to formally approve in open session. The project could run up to $36 million. Tuesday's meeting saw City Council merely rank the three remaining proposals and First Choice happened to end up in the top spot.
Technically, the other two proposals still in the running before yesterday's announcement, submitted by design/build consortiums W.M. Jordan and Donley's, are not off the table yet. If contract negotiations fall through between city officials and First Choice, then one of those two remaining options could be reconsidered.
That's an option that Cameron says is unlikely.
"I think we have a high degree of confidence that we can work out a comprehensive agreement with First Choice, if not an absolute certaintly," said Cameron. "We have that expectation."
Raymond Booth, who heads up First Choice's bid for the project, said that he looks forward to negotiations.
"We are obviously very thrilled and very happy and looking forward to moving forward with the city to building these facilities," said Booth.
Booth also said that this experience with the city was the most open process he has ever participated in. The openness initially was a cause for concern, especially during the preliminary, public unveiling of the courthouse presentations at a packed meeting in City Hall. First Choice, which presented on the first evening of the two nights of meetings, was concerned that their competitors might have an advantage on the second night.
"That was obviously a concern, particularly the fact that I think they had three the first day and two the other day," said Booth. "They had overnight to adjust their presentations based on the feedback received from council on the first night."
Details on Courthouse Deliberations Still Confidential
Still, that openness which gave some design-build teams pause was not universally recognized. Throughout the courthouse evaluation process, local activists, op-ed writers and journalists have been critical of the number of closed sessions used by the city council to debate the relative merits of the proposed court facilities.
At the center of those complaints is a document produced by the consulting firm Arcadis which exhaustively compared the proposals before council. City leaders, particularly Mayor Thomas Tomzak, Cameron and City Attorney Kathleen Dooley have emphasized that the document needs to remain confidential in its entirety until a contract is signed to protect the bargaining position of the city in an effort to get the best deal.
The result is that members of the general public still have little to no idea exactly why the City Council chose to move forward with First Choice. According to Cameron, the Arcadis report and other confidential information held by the city during the evaluation process will become public once a contract has been awarded.