The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

October 11, 2011

Renaissance Project contracts' meeting turns testy

ENID — A special Enid City Commission meeting called Tuesday to approve contracts for the Enid Renaissance Project turned testy, with developer Bob Berry saying city staff members were “pulling numbers out of their backside” and City Manager Eric Benson calling Berry a liar.

Commissioners unanimously approved the two contracts for about $24.5 million to build a new event center adjacent to Cherokee Strip Conference Center and renovate Convention Hall.

The contract for the event center went to Key Construction, of Tulsa, for $17,444,444. There was a 3 percent difference between the highest and lowest bids for the event center. Contract length is 444 days.

The contract for renovating Convention Hall went to W. L. McNatt and Co., of Oklahoma City. The total was $7,082,000. The bid includes $5,962,000 for renovating the first and second floors into a ballroom and meeting areas, as well as an alternate bid of $1,120,000 for work on the third and fourth floors. Contract time is 275 calendar days.

The meeting was fiery at times, with Berry saying bids came in lower than expected because of a lawsuit he and his son Eli filed against the city.

Berry also said the figures used by the city for Enid Renaissance Project were not complete and said someone “pulled them out of their behind.”

Berry said city staff has known the full project cost — including furnishings for the buildings, utility relocation and property acquisition — was at a minimum $32 million to $35 million for more than a year, but that never was reported. He accused former commissioner Don Rose and commissioners Drew Ritchie and Todd Ging of withholding information about project costs from current commissioners. He asked it be independently confirmed by Finance Director Jerald Gilbert.

Speaking from prepared remarks, Berry said the city would not have sufficient cash on hand to operate if an emergency occurred because it was spending all of its available funds on the Enid Renaissance Project. He included future expenses for furniture, fixtures and equipment for the Convention Hall kitchen as part of Renaissance costs. He said Enid residents expect the city to maintain cash reserves for significant opportunities or problems that may arise.

After the vote, Rose told commissioners Berry had not saved the city any money by halting the construction manager at-risk contract. He said the original Flintco bid was about $17 million for construction of the event center, just as the contract approved Tuesday. The only difference was contingency funds were built into the contract with Flintco.

“In reality, we’re not saving a dime,” Rose said.

Berry also said a hotel city officials hope to attract next to the event center would require a minimum of $4.8 million incentive from the city. Benson said the only public money currently to be spent on the hotel will be to construct the pad for the hotel. Any changes in that policy would have to be decided by the city commission.

Berry also said he would select a local accounting firm that is independent of both the city and himself and ask them to check the figures and verify them with Gilbert.

Benson, obviously annoyed at Berry’s remarks about incomplete figures, responded angrily, calling Berry “a liar.”

“Bob, you’re lying about your numbers, you’re resorting to outright lies ... fiction does not make the project any less good. This is a good project,” Benson said.

Also before the vote, Special District Judge Norman Grey, a former mayor, encouraged approval of the project, and Tom Sailors, chairman of Friends of Convention Hall, which lobbied for improvements to the historic downtown building, also urged passage. Enid realtor Phil Edwards said he also approved of the Convention Hall project and urged passage of the entire project.

Mayor Bill Shewey said approval of the contracts was a positive one for the city.

Berry asked commissioners to wait seven days before approving the contracts to verify his claims.

“All we ask now is for you seven to take the time, even it if is just a week, to get independent verification of claims raised in writing and today. This must be done independently, as Mr. Benson is the chief proponent,” Berry said.

He said the bids were good for 60 days and asked commissioners to wait until next week’s regular city commission meeting to vote on the contracts.

Approval of the projects brought applause from the majority of the approximately 40 people who attended the meeting.

Berry later responded to Benson’s remarks, saying the city manager bullies those who disagree with him. Berry said that discourages average residents from coming before the commission. He said he would confirm the costs independently.

During a later meeting with the News & Eagle editorial board Tuesday, Benson said the city has the money in the bank to pay for the entire project and still retain 70 percent of its capital reserves. However, it would not be in the city’s best interests to do so. In order to take advantage of New Market Tax Credits, he said, the city would be required to finance a portion of the project.

The city is in great position financially, Benson said.

“We have had a balanced budget the past five years. In 2008 and 2009, we had our highest sales tax gains in history, and we are expecting to top that this year,” he said.

Benson also enumerated other moves by the city, some approved by the public, which have placed the city in a unique financial position, including the 2008 extension of a sales tax that had been dedicated to paying off water bonds but now can be used for other capital improvement needs, as well as another $6 million in a rainy day fund that has not been part of any previous discussion.

Benson said there was $24 million in the capital improvement fund as of Tuesday, and for two years the city will not pay interest on long-term water bond debt, which totals about $600,000 per month.

Also Tuesday, commissioners voted:

• To terminate the construction manager at-risk construction delivery method for the Enid Renaissance Project and agreed to pay Flintco LLC $46,000 owed for work already done.

• To amend the 2011-12 capital improvement fund budget by decreasing appropriated funds by $20,628, 898.

• To appropriate an additional $9,026,444 to the 2011-12 capital improvement fund for Enid Renaissance Project. The city budgeted $15,500,000 for the project, and bids total $24,526,444, which means the $9,026,444 must be appropriated. The additional funds are available to appropriate from Enid Municipal Authority.

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