Independence skips bid process in choosing arena builder

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By DAVID MARTIN

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Robert Heacock, third from left, and Mayor Don Reimal, fourth from left, break ground.

The city of Independence broke ground earlier this month on a 5,800-seat events center. J.E. Dunn Construction, the metro's largest contractor, is building the $55-million facility on a no-bid contract.

In the original plan, Global Entertainment Corp. of Phoenix was going to build and operate the arena, which aspires to host a Central Hockey League team. Global's declining financial position -- its stock trades at about a quarter of the price it did two years ago -- led the city to take a direct role in the design and construction phase. (Global Entertainment will still manage the building.)

Though the city assumed contractual control, it didn't follow its regular procurement procedures. The city council approved the Dunn contract without a formally requesting bids.

The Dunn selection was made in the interest of speed, city officials say. City Manager Robert Heacock says the events center is a "design-build" project, a term used when the design and construction phases overlap. (The city hopes to open the building in time for the 2009 CHL season.)

Other commercial contractors expressed interest in the job. But city officials were sufficiently impressed with Dunn's ability and experience that they did not seek formal bid packages. "It was [Dunn's] approach and price that made the difference," says Jim Martin of the Benham Companies, a planning and design firm the city hired to oversee the project. Martin says the events center is on a "fast-track."

Steve Bielewicz, the president of Global Properties, a Global Entertainment subsidiary, notes that contractors tend to feel shut out, no matter how jobs get awarded. "There's only person happy with the selection," he says.

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