Taxpayer League sues after design contract awarded without bidding

Published 2:19 pm Saturday, October 13, 2012

Funding has mostly fallen into place for a new Lowertown ballpark, but the St. Paul Saints have yet another fight on their hands.

The Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Republican activist Greg Copeland are suing the city of St. Paul, maintaining that the city awarded a design-build contract to the Ryan Cos. in violation of competitive bidding laws.

The lawsuit seeks to halt construction before it even begins and force a bidding process.

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“We’re asking for it to be stopped,” said attorney Dean B. Thomson, who filed the lawsuit Friday, for “declaratory and injunctive relief” in Ramsey County District Court.

The St. Paul city attorney’s office is reviewing the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.

City officials have maintained there was no need to bid the $52 million to $54 million project out to the cheapest qualified design and construction company, as the ballpark is being built under the same legislation that established Target Field, the new home of the Minnesota Twins. That legislation created a Minnesota Ballpark Authority, which then awarded a construction contract.

At the urging of Copeland and the Taxpayers League, Thomson took a look at the legislation, and he maintains he’s found some glaring procedural errors in awarding the Saints ballpark to the Ryan Cos.

Thomson, of Fabyanske, Westra, Hart and Thomson, P.A. in Minneapolis, said the Twins legislation allows one company to receive the contract for engineering, design and construction, but it does not exempt a city from bidding law.

“There’s nothing in that statute that gives the city a waiver to competitive bidding law,” Thomson said. He added that any special provisions in state law allowing the Twins or ballpark authority to award a bid “just aren’t applicable to the city.”

“Design-build can certainly be competitively procured,” Thomson said. “It’s done all the time. … (The legislation) just says ‘you can use design build.’ Who knows if the city got the best contract for its price? The fact is, we don’t know. There has been no competitive process.”

The lawsuit maintains that the legislation does “not exempt the city from common law and statutory provisions requiring sealed bidding … for contracts in excess of $100,000.”

The suit points out that the city’s grant application to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development in June noted that $38.6 million of the $54 million projected price tag would be for construction activities. The application did not state how much of the total project cost was related to design, but the suit states it’s reasonable to assume design will also exceed $100,000.

Gov. Mark Dayton awarded the city of St. Paul $25 million in state bond funding toward the ballpark project Sept. 13, and the Ryan Cos. was announced as the design-build contractor the next day.

Thomson previously represented a contractor, the Rochon Corp., that sued the city of St. Paul over construction of the Lofts at Farmers Market for allegedly altering a sealed bid and awarding it to a different contractor, Shaw Lundquist. The lawsuit ultimately prevailed at the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which determined that the city should have halted construction of the lofts and rebid construction.

No damages were awarded in the Lofts at Farmers Market case, and by the time the appeals court decision was issued this year, the building was already constructed.

“If in fact Ryan is the best design-builder for this project, it shouldn’t have a problem getting the award after a competitive process,” Thomson said.

Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, said in the case of the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins, firms were selected to design professional sports stadiums outside of a traditional bidding process, but only after a series of open public meetings.

“Starting with the Vikings stadium, first of all there’s a stadium authority which is appointed by the governor,” said Krinkie. “They recently went through a rather lengthy selection process, with meetings that were open to the public. They negotiated down the cost of the design process with the firm they selected.”

Krinkie, a former state legislator, once chaired the state government finance committee which has purview over open and competitive bidding statutes, and the capital investment committee, which hears capital requests for state general obligation bonds.

No significant work has taken place on the Saints ballpark site, though the city has begun initial environmental assessments in preparation for clean-up and demolition.

St. Paul Saints officials and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman hope to see the 7,250-seat ballpark completed in 2014 or 2015 on the site of the Gillette/Diamond Products warehouse off 5th and Broadway streets in downtown St. Paul.

The site is expected to bring more than 200 events downtown annually, including 50 to 60 Saints games. A spokesman for the St. Paul Saints did not immediately return calls.