Airport overhaul contract put on hold

Charleston International Airport officials have delayed signing a $150 million contract for the makeover and expansion of the airport.

BY WARREN L. WISE wwise@postandcourier.com

The Charleston County Aviation Authority on Monday delayed signing the contract that will set in motion a multiyear massive makeover of the aging terminal at Charleston International Airport.

It also will trigger a refiling of the protest of the airport board’s selection process for the contractor that will handle the $150 million project.

The runner-up bidders allege the board’s March 22 decision was tainted because they say former board member Joey Jefferson, whose company has ties to the winning firm, participated in some of the deliberations. Jefferson resigned from the authority April 12.

The board Monday decided not to sign the 170-plus page contract with the team led by Dallas-based Austin Commercial LP. Austin has partnered with Hitt Contracting Inc.

“We have a few technical things to work out,” airport board chairman Chip Limehouse said after a 40-minute closed-door meeting to discuss the contract. “It’s a $150 million contract so we are going to dot all of our ‘i’s and cross all of our ‘t’s. We are not going to make any hasty decisions.”

Limehouse said the delay was not related to the protest and should be ready for approval within 10 days.

The runner-up bidders, a team led by Holder Construction Co. of Atlanta with local partners Mashburn Construction Co., CCCS and Cumming, protested the board’s decision on April 5, but added that they thought the protest could be premature since the contract with the Austin-Hitt venture had not been signed. They reserved the right to suspend it and refile it if necessary.

The Holder team’s attorney, Tom Hildebrand, said Monday the group will refile its protest after the contract is signed.

The original protest claims Jefferson’s firm, Palmetto Civil Group LLC, was a member of the Austin-Hitt team and his presence on the board provided an unfair advantage to that group.

The Holder team believes the Austin-Hitt bid should be tossed out because they say Jefferson’s position on the board “tainted the solicitation.” As the second-place bidder, it wants to be awarded the contract or for the airport to solicit new bids.

Limehouse, who is also a state representative, said Jefferson recused himself from any votes on the project and did not participate in the selection.

Jefferson resigned from the airport board’s Terminal Redevelopment and Improvement Program Committee in December, according to airport attorney Arnold Goodstein. Jefferson did not appear at the March 22 meeting where the contract was awarded, but he remained a member of the full airport board until his resignation.

It remains to be seen if the protest will hold up construction. The project is scheduled to begin later this year and should be completed by the end of 2014.

The work will be paid for through bonds issued on revenue the airport generates from parking, rental cars and airline passenger fees.

A separate project to add 428 more parking spaces is already underway. Crews were clearing trees Monday at the airport entrance. Sanders Brothers Construction Co. of North Charleston is handling the $1.4 million, five-month project. The extra spaces will make room for the future doubling of the 1,200-space parking deck.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.