State auditors will review the publicly bid renovations at city-owned Cheney Stadium to find out if the project has met state bidding laws, a spokeswoman for Washington Auditor Brian Sonntag said this week.
“Specifically, we will be looking at whether the city followed the laws around the design-build process,” spokeswoman Mindy Chambers said Wednesday.
The review of the Tacoma ballpark project will be part of the state’s regular accountability audit of the city set to begin in August, Chambers said.
The auditor’s office routinely reviews publicly bid projects carried out by municipal governments in Washington. City officials can also request that certain projects be included in such reviews. In this case, Councilman Ryan Mello asked that Cheney Stadium be examined, Chambers said.
“But we were planning on looking at it before he called,” she added.
Mello, who serves on the council’s Government Performance and Finance Committee, said “several council members asked me to look into the matter in my role on the committee.”
When he contacted the auditor’s office, Mello said he was told auditors “were actually already looking into it, because they read the newspaper and follow those sorts of things.”
“It’s very typical that they do these kinds of performance audits and they do anything that has gotten a lot of scrutiny,” Mello said.
As part of a deal to get Schlegel Sports, then the owners of the minor-league Tacoma Rainiers baseball team, to extend its Cheney Stadium lease with the city, Tacoma’s City Council agreed to a $28 million bond sale in late 2009 to cover most of the $30 million renovation.
The city then negotiated the lease extension, in which ownership agreed to keep the team in Tacoma through 2041. Repayment of debt will be covered mostly by part of the team’s $500,000 annual rent payment and by a new $1 fee on tickets.
News of the audit comes less than four weeks after city and Rainiers officials unveiled the new-look stadium in time for the team’s 2011 home opener.
The project’s design-build process – a fast-track alternative public procurement process for certain government construction projects – has been marred by a string of allegations.
After a selection committee made up of city and Rainiers officials and their consultants tentatively chose in January 2010 a design submitted by a bid team led by Mortenson Construction, members of two competing teams raised fairness concerns. The city reviewed those claims, but found the process was done fairly and legally. The council ultimately awarded a $26.5 million contract to Mortenson in March 2010.
Last month, a News Tribune story based on public records revealed that Mortenson had received information during closed-door meetings with the selection committee that competing bid teams did not get.
Specifically, Mortenson learned the renovated ballpark’s roof coverage did not need to be equal to or more than that of the old ballpark, even though initial project specifications required that. Mortenson later won the contract with a ballpark design featuring a stunted roof, using the savings from the smaller roof to include other sought-after amenities.
City, team and Mortenson officials have since insisted the process was fair. They’ve also noted that a revised and final bid solicitation issued on Jan. 8, 2010, did not mention roof coverage. The final solicitation gave each team six days to revise and resubmit previous designs that had gone over budget.
Chambers said she isn’t sure how long the state audit will take.
“That will depend in large part on what we find regarding this issue and anything else that might crop up,” she said.
Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542 email@example.com