Atlanta releases list of proposed airport concessions winners
If you someday find yourself wolfing down a Varsity chili dog or a Willy’s burrito before a flight from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, you’ll be able to trace the meal to a contentious meeting at Atlanta City Hall on Wednesday.
The City Council’s transportation committee voted to approve a package of new retail and food and beverage concessions contracts for the world’s busiest airport. At stake were millions of dollars in sales and payments to the city, and more than 150 food, beverage and retail slots were up for grabs.
The vote moves the list along for consideration by the full council in early January.
Many of the eateries recommended by the city’s procurement and aviation departments are well-recognized Atlanta names that will be new to Hartsfield-Jackson — The Varsity, Shane’s Rib Shack and Willy’s Mexicana Grill among them. Some local applicants, including South City Kitchen and Manuel’s Tavern, were not on a list of winners.
Dissent centered not on the winners’ merits but on the process. Committee members had 12 hours or less to inspect key documents after Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration couriered them to their homes late Tuesday night. The last-minute delivery was not an effort to keep a contentious issue out of the limelight, said Louis Miller, the city’s aviation general manager.
“We’re dotting our I’s and crossing our T’s,” said Miller, who reports to Reed. “We spent a lot of time with this.”
The committee voted 4-1 to approve recommended food and beverage contract winners, with one abstention. The vote on retail outlets was 4-2.
The airport plans to open a new international terminal this spring. Failing to approve the contracts on Wednesday would have tacked several weeks onto a procurement process that has already been delayed for months. In September, the city tossed out an initial batch of proposals because of missing documents.
Delaying the opening of the international terminal would cost the city $3.1 million per month in lost concessions sales, Miller said.
The contracts are in the form of nine food and beverage “packages” covering 126 locations, as well as separate packages for 24 retail locations at the airport.
Recommended retail locations in the international terminal include Ferragamo, Omega, Bvlgari, Swarovski, and Tommy Hilfiger. Some of those retailers already have a presence in the airport.
Other proposed restaurants with Georgia or Atlanta connections include Goldberg’s Deli, Real Chow Baby, ECCO, Atlanta Chop House, Varasano’s Pizzeria, The Original El Taco, YEAH! Burger and Grindhouse Killer Burgers.
The idea is for passengers to “know they’re in the Southeast, they know they’re in Georgia, and they know they’re in Atlanta,” Miller said. “That was very important to what we were trying to accomplish.”
Along with a filling spots in the international terminal, the airport looked to changed other restaurants and retail venues because many hadn’t been refreshed in years.
Many of the contract package winners, including Hojeij Branded Foods, Delaware North Companies, The Paradies Shops, Concessions International and HMSHost, contributed or had affiliates that contributed to Reed, and in some cases were close to Reed’s campaign. Reed said he returned money contributed by airport concessionaires during the procurement process. Reed has not accepted contributions from airport concessionaires since June 30, according to spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs Dade.
Officials expect formal challenges and lawsuits from losing bidders.
“I’m not aware of any procurement process in the city of Atlanta that’s been done in my lifetime that’s not been under a cloud” said Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, who pushed for the package to be approved in Wednesday’s meeting, which stretched over four hours. “Everybody has an attorney. People are not going to be happy. People are going to sue.”
Councilwoman Felicia Moore repeatedly asked for more information about how each concessionaire’s score was tabulated than the city’s lawyers and procurement experts would divulge. She complained of having only “a couple hours” to review the list.
“If we as a body allow this to occur, then we’re saying it’s okay,” she said. “It’s just not okay.”
Councilman Michael J. Bond said the legislative body should err on the side of caution and deliberation as it handles lucrative contracts that will last between seven and 10 years. “A fully-vetted proposal is the way to go,” he said.
Four committee members — Bottoms, C.T. Martin, Carla Smith and H. Lamar Willis — voted to approve the food and beverage contracts, and later to approve the retail contracts. Moore voted against both actions. Bond voted against the retail contracts and abstained from the food and beverage vote.
There were between five and seven competitors for each of five large food and beverage packages, and 13-20 competitors for each of four small food and beverage packages. Each retail slot had three or four competitors.
Willis had harsh words for those who complained about the procurement process. He said complainants would have had more credibility if they had alerted him to flawed judging before the winners were announced.
“There are going to be happy people and some very unhappy people,” he said. “That’s the name of the game. The reality is somebody is going to lose. Unless you can point out that somebody made a bad call . . .why should we hold it up?”
Some of the winning brands at Hartsfield-Jackson:
Food and beverage: Ruby Tuesday, P.F. Chang’s, Pappadeaux Seafood, Pinkberry, McDonald’s, Qdoba, Varasano’s Pizzeria, Chick‐fil‐A, TWIST, Willy’s, Popeyes, Yogurbella, Dunkin’ Donuts, Paschals, T.G.I. Friday’s, Fresh to Order, Little Azio, Lavazza Coffee, Carrabba’s, The Varsity, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, LongHorn, La Madeleine, The Real Chow Baby, Baja Fresh, French Meadow Bakery, The Pecan, Rolling Bones BBQ, Chipotle, Ruby’s Diner, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Popeyes, Bojangles’, Corner Bakery Café, Fatburger, Georgia Grown, Argo Tea Café, Shane’s Rib Shack, Atlanta Chophouse, Coffee Beanery, Starbucks, Chicken N Beer, Atlanta Braves All-Star Grill, Goldberg’s Bagel Co., Michon’s Smokehouse, Jekyll Island Seafood Co., Asian Chao, Gold Coast Dogs, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Wienerz Grill.
Retail: Wall Street Journal, Johnston & Murphy, Magellan’s, Tommy Hilfiger, Kiehl’s, Luxury Boutique, Simply Books, Clutch, CNN, TouchTable, Sunglass Icon, CNBC News, New York Times Bookstore, Goldberg’s Deli, Spanx, Pandora, Brooks Brothers, Swarovski, Shades of Time, Soundbalance, Sweet Auburn Market, Brookstone, The Body Shop.