Love Field no-bid concessions contracts defeated

All restaurant and retail space open for bid


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Aug. 19--A deeply divisive fight over concessions contracts at Love Field culminated before the Dallas City Council on Wednesday, ending in the defeat of two no-bid contracts and the adoption of a plan to open for bid all restaurant and retail space at the city-owned airport.

After hours of discussion, a racially split council voted 8-7 to reject a proposed deal that would have given -- without a competitive bid -- more than half of the concessions space in a renovated Love terminal to the airport's current vendors for a term of up to 18 years.

Then, in a victory for Mayor Tom Leppert, the council voted 11-4 to accept a plan to bid out all concessions space at the airport when the new terminal opens in 2014.

The key vote in the 8-7 decision came from council member Angela Hunt, who in June asked the council to put off action on the airport while she considered the deals in question.

On Wednesday, she said she decided the best thing for Love Field would be to open the terminal's concessions to bid, with some incentives for the current vendors to stay at the airport during a three-year renovation and expansion period.

Hunt said the full bidding plan is not perfect, but it "creates a management model that has worked at other airports quite successfully by creating a fully bid-out process."

The concessions contracts have long been a source of controversy at City Hall, complicated by the political connections of the vendors who have done business at Love Field for years.

The airport's current retail vendor, Hudson Retail Dallas, is partly owned by state Rep. Helen Giddings and a trust that controls the assets of U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.

The airport's food concession company, Star Concessions, is owned by longtime political donor Gilbert Aranza.

Under a deal proposed by city staff and unanimously approved by a council committee, Star and Hudson would have received more than half of all concession space in Love's renovated terminal, with the remaining space put out for bid.

In April, Leppert began to work to stop those deals from being approved, calling them too sweet for the current vendors and bad for the city's image as a fair place to do business.

The council twice put off votes on the deals as Leppert worked to gather support for a plan to bid all the space.

He said Wednesday that the council had made the right decision.

"We've signaled to people what is important, and that's doing things in an open and transparent way. ... And I think we showed that business at City Hall can be done in the right way," he said.

Leppert was able to gather support for the open-bid plan from three minority council members: Delia Jasso, Dwaine Caraway and Tennell Atkins.

Atkins and Caraway said that after the deals proposed by city staff were defeated, it was time for the council to move on.

"It's not a fun deal for me today. But it is something we are even now going to move forward with," Caraway said.

Moving on could be difficult, however.

Several council members were angry over the way the contracts debate played out.

Council member Vonciel Jones Hill, who voted against Leppert's plan, said the mayor has implied publicly that she acted corruptly in backing the deals that favored Hudson and Star.

"I have been called in this discussion corrupt, dishonest, unintelligent, etc. I have been called publicly everything except a child of God. And I am none of that. I am not corrupt," she said.

Council member Carolyn Davis said she regretted supporting Leppert in votes on the city's convention center hotel and an ethics-reform ordinance.

"Mayor, I was a swing vote for you on two things. ... If I knew it now, I would have went the other way," she said.

"You are going to need me again. You are going to need me. And you are going to need my vote on something else, where I'm going to be a swing vote."

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