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City council demands more answers on controversial $101M East Tampa city center contract

Critics say the contract process for such a huge, taxpayer project has not been transparent. However, city administration says it followed all rules.

TAMPA, Fla. — When a 2015 $10 million contract ballooned to more than $100 million in 2021 to build a new city center on Hanna Avenue in East Tampa, contractors and community members said they felt duped, and that the process lacked transparency.

Now, City Council Chair Orlando Gudes is requesting city staff members involved in the project appear in person before the council to answer questions.

The proposed city center slated for East Hanna Ave would relocate about 11 city departments and hundreds of jobs. The center would also have amenities for the community.

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The city awarded DPR Construction the $10 million contract in 2015, but initially only paid out $1.2 million because the project was put on hold. A city spokesperson said funding for the full project was not available at the time. The contract came before the city council again in 2021 with amendments for additional money in the amounts of $6.2 million and $101 million.

The city council approved both.

While the project is expected to generate new jobs and help revive a struggling area, local construction experts have said the city did not follow the proper process for a contract with such a huge change in scope and price.

"We need an attorney general opinion," said Joe Robinson, president of RHC and Associates, Inc. Consulting Engineers.

In a March 1 memo to the council from a city attorney on behalf of multiple city staffers, the city administration said it complied with all necessary processes to move the project forward.

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“It is not unusual for the scope of complex city projects to evolve over time and for complex projects to be substantially delayed. In addition, it is not unusual for costs to exceed or vary from the original project estimate. However, these factors do not mandate that the Hanna Avenue Project undergo a second CCNA process,” the memo read.

However, government contract and procurement experts say it is standard practice for contracts with large changes in scope and price to be revisited.

In response to the city council’s request for a report on whether the council can reverse or rescind its vote on the project, the memo stated there is no legal basis to do so.

The city administration also requested the memo be accepted in lieu of an in-person appearance.

Council Chair Orlando Gudes followed up in a reply memo asking all staff contributing to the memo to appear at council on March 17 to answer questions, saying: 

“I believe all discussion, except involving litigation, must be discussed in the sunshine for the benefit if the public.”

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