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In split decision, City Council awards parking garage contracts

CHARLOTTE – The Charlotte City Council on Monday night awarded two major construction contracts for Blue Line extension projects worth nearly $57 million.

Although the two companies qualified as low-bidders, neither vote was unanimous.

A $32.1 million contract went to New Atlantic Contracting Inc. of Winston-Salem to construct a parking garage for commuters who will board or get off the train at University City Boulevard.

And China Construction America of South Carolina, based in Columbia, submitted a low bid of $24.8 million for the J.W. Clay Boulevard parking garage.

Neither company hit federal disadvantaged business enterprises goals – which the city is using as benchmarks as it tries out its own, local version of hiring minority-owned and disadvantaged contractors and subcontractors.

China Construction came closest to the 12 percent goal by committing to hire DBEs with nearly 9 percent of the contract. New Atlantic came in at a little more than 3.6 percent of its construction budget.

But city staff members explained that because the parking garages will be built largely of cast-in-place concrete, fewer subcontractors will be required. Staff members said that if they had better understood that, more realistic goals would have been 8.2 percent for China and 6.6 percent for New Atlantic.

In response to questions from several City Council members, City Attorney Bob Hagemann said the council was compelled to award the contracts to the two low-bidders because the city staff had determined the companies had employed “good faith efforts” to hire enough DBEs.

Upon further questioning, Hagemann explained that those efforts must be meticulously documented and real. At-large Democratic Councilwoman Claire Fallon added that she had once been responsible for making those efforts when she worked for an architecture firm, and that the standards were real and rigorous.

“It’s not just making a few phone calls,” Fallon said.

Councilman Kenny Smith, a Republican from District 6 – and a commercial real estate broker for New South Properties – questioned whether China Construction, which mostly specializes in surface paving, had sufficient experience in building structured parking. A staff member said the company had previously built a parking deck at UNC Charlotte’s main campus.

Smith said experience was important because a low bid might not turn out to be lowest in the end if the construction company made mistakes that took the project over budget.

Hagemann said that legally the council’s hands were tied because under state law, experience specifics could not be considered a factor once a contractor had sufficiently demonstrated that it was legitimate by state and industry standards.

The vote on each contract was 6-3 in favor.

Smith, District 3 Democrat LaWana Mayfield and Democrat Al Austin of District 4 voted against the China Construction contract; at-large Democrat David Howard joined Mayfield and Austin in voting “nay” on the New Atlantic contract.

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