SEEK BETTER PBIA DEAL

Palm Beach International Airport Director Bruce Pelly doesn't like controversy over the airport's two main concessionaires, and bidding the lucrative contracts can lead to messy political fights. But that's no excuse to not seek a better deal for the county and for travelers.

Mr. Pelly avoided such a chance in August when the county commission awarded a 10-year extension, through 2024, to Host Marriott for PBIA's food and beverage contract. The reason for extending the contract, which still had six years to run, was that Host would do a $3.8million expansion.

But to grant a similar extension to the operator of book and gifts stores, The Paradies Shops, Mr. Pelly had to go the extra mile. Paradies is in a dispute over payments to its longtime minority partner, JL Unlimited. Paradies offered JL a chance to make the dispute go away: Accept a lesser role as a 25 percent partner. The minority contractor wouldn't have to run any shops, as it has done with Paradies since 1987. JL just would have to provide training, vendor recruitment and public relations. It's a nice way of having a minority partner as window-dressing. But JL partner Jackie Haygood, who has run stores at the airport since 1983, rejected the deal.

Instead of extending Paradies' contract, as it did for Host, the airport opened the contract to competition. But PBIA crafted bid rules that made the objective battle over price less important than the subjective battle over who the airport liked best. As Mr. Pelly made clear, he is very happy with Paradies.

A national competitor, Hudson Group, considered bidding but pulled out because the competition seemed stacked toward Paradies. Paradies took advantage of the rebidding to jettison JL Unlimited. It brought in a new minority partnership, of Thyra Echols-Starr and Stacy Bryant. Are they going to take the "partnership" deal that Ms. Haygood rejected?

Paradies founder Dan Paradies went to prison in 1994 for bribing an Atlanta councilman and airport official. Two Palm Beach County commissioners have pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Isn't it in the best interest of both Paradies and the commission to assure an open competition before locking up lucrative contracts for decades?

"If you've got a good operator," Mr. Pelly told The Post, "why wouldn't you extend the contract?" Because extending contracts without real competition invites favoritism and corruption. Today, commissioners should reject the Paradies contract and open it to real competition.


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