Savannah City Council approves contract for arena after passing over competing firm twice

Published: Apr. 25, 2019 at 11:41 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A company passed over for a job on the new arena project made an appeal at Thursday’s Savannah City Council meeting.

After hours of debate, they were passed over again. It’s nearly a $90,000 contract awarded to the Oak View Group, who will take on all the operational and management responsibilities of the new arena.

There were two votes, and both passed 5-3. The first vote was to reject the appeal of the competing firm. The other was to vote to approve the winning group. What’s interesting about this unusual debate in council is the process, and what some council members are saying could hurt them in the long run.

“I think this is a mess. I think this is a real mess," said Alderman Tony Thomas, District 6, Savannah.

SMG Venue Services lost the bid to oversee operations and management at Savannah’s new arena to the OVG team. In Thursday’s city council meetings, attorneys and leaders from the group asked for an appeal on the decision, citing unfairness.

“The failings in OVG proposal and the manner in which they have participated in this process has been fatally, fatally compromised this RFP process,” said Harold Buckley, Jr., the attorney representing SMG.

SMG claims council held an unlawful closed-door meeting by inviting the OVG team before the contract was approved. City Manager Rob Hernandez says the meeting was lawful because they did not negotiate with them.

“I can tell you that has not taken place,” Hernandez said. "We have not entertained any negotiations with OVG and won’t do so until this board directs staff to do that by awarding a contract."

The City of Savannah also required financial statements in applications, but the OVG team did not actually submit those, and still got the bid. Mayor Eddie DeLoach was very serious in debunking SMG’s claims. He says it came down to the OVG team offering the community more money in their proposal.

“It has nothing to do with all this other stuff y’all want to point at and say ‘he said, she said.’ It has nothing to do with it. This is strictly about opportunity and opportunities for this community, and not opportunities from wherever you are from,” Mayor DeLoach said.

Tony Thomas, Van Johnson, and Dr. Estella Shabazz all voted for an appeal. In all of this drama was their disappointment in this process and how it could impact the city’s reputation to do business.

“My concern is what do people that want to do business with the city think about this, and then we wonder why people don’t want to do business with us, because they look and they see stuff like this,” Alderman Johnson said. “Most folks say, 'I don’t want to be bothered at all by these types of games.”

“That people just don’t want to do business with Savannah and this is case in point, because we don’t do business right and we don’t do business fair,” Dr. Shabazz said.

Also during the meeting, Hernandez reported what he called “rumors” around the city that he used to be a paid consultant of the winning firm, OVG. Hernandez said that’s far from the truth, but he did have little association with the firm when they worked in Broward County at the same time he did.

Mayor Pro-tem Carol Bell, whose son’s cleaning business is a proposed subcontractor for OVG, recused herself from the vote.

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