With $557 million up for grabs to renovate New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, officials may have to find a new contractor to lead the project.
Joint venture Hunt-Broadmoor won the original bid earlier in 2021, but after a rival consortium filed a petition to claim that Hunt-Broadmoor should be disqualified for improper licensing in the state of Louisiana, a New Orleans court granted an injunction on October 13, 2021, that blocked the Convention Center from moving ahead with the contract.
Hunt-Broadmoor had originally won the contract over a joint venture of Woodward-Landis-VPG-GH Mechanical-CDW Services andMetro-Lemoine-McDonnel, the latter of whom filed the petition protesting the winning bid. The contract would have awarded Hunt-Broadmoor the center’s “Construction Manager at Risk” contract and put it in charge of refurbishing the complex and adding new structures.
Michael Sherman, a consultant for the Metro-Lemoine-McDonnel group which challenged Hunt-Broadmoor’s contract, said that the state licensing board had confirmed to him that the joint venture did not have a license, leading to the objection.
“When an out of state contractor like AECOM comes to Louisiana and doesn’t take the time to understand our laws, they can make big mistakes,” Sherman said.
According to New Orleans construction lawyer Mark G. Montiel, Jr., this mistake may have quite serious implications for Hunt-Broadmoor’s involvement in the contract, as there’s a recent legal precedent that may turn the temporary injunction into permanent removal from the project.
“Specifically, the ruling in Lemoine/Brasfield & Gorrie Joint Venture, LLC lays out the details of what is required under Public Bid law very specifically in cases of joint ventures who form an entity,” Montiel noted. “In that case, both underlying entities were licensed, yet the failure to obtain a license for the joint venture was fatal.”
Interestingly, this prior case involves one of the companies disputing the Morial Convention Center contract, as Montiel added.
“Of course, no one understands this better than Lemoine itself, as the court previously tossed out their bid in favor of a more expensive bid because they did not have a license for their joint venture,” Montiel said. “Here, turnabout is fair play. The facts of this case appear to be precisely on point.”
“Hunt Broadmoor does not possess its own license. While both of the underlying entities are reputable licensed construction companies, I believe the Court will have a hard time ignoring the fairly recent precedent on this issue,” Montiel concluded.
Hunt-Broadmoor spokesperson Amy Ferguson noted that the group was expecting to move forward with the contract despite the dispute, signaling that the company wasn’t expecting the challenge to seriously endanger the company’s plans.
“While we’re disappointed with the court’s preliminary ruling, our position remains the same: Our team fully complied with the applicable Louisiana licensing laws,” Ferguson said. “We’re confident that we will ultimately prevail on this point, and we look forward to working with the Convention Center on this significant project for the city of New Orleans.”
Of course, the opposition disagrees, and those looking to keep AECOM-Broadmoor from moving forward with the project feel there may not be much else to say.
An October 13, 2021, statement by Metro-Lemoine-McDonnel legal representative Daniel Davillier said “Today, the court agreed that the [Hunt-Broadmoor] partnership did not have the required Louisiana contractor’s license…The Convention Center board was clear that this was a legal issue to be decided by a court and we hope today’s hearing brought closure to this dispute.”
Beyond the dispute in question, the involvement of AECOM Hunt in the project is sure to create a bit of controversy amongst subcontractors and suppliers, as the company has had a difficult history with payment.
Levelset’s contractor profile for the company, which gathers feedback from subcontractors and suppliers, gives the company a 2.2 star rating out of 5 based on the opinion of 34 respondents.
“My experience is that they will come up with every excuse in the world to hold onto your money, ex. holding onto money for 6 months to a year after the change order is complete,” said one subcontractor about working with AECOM Hunt. “It is almost laughable that they use the term Trade Partners. There is nothing partner [sic] about it. As long as you know you are getting into bed with the devil and plan accordingly, you will get out alive. I wonder if AECOM realizes the impact this could have on their brand.”
“I can tell you that AECOM absolutely does not honor their financial commitments,” another subcontractor added. “It is not unusual for them to be over 180 days past due paying invoices. I have asked the managers of my company not to bid on future work involving AECOM due to their poor payment practices.”
AECOM Hunt has been in the news for problems with major projects recently, as well. As prior Levelset coverage noted, an April 13, 2021, lawsuit filed by California’s Penhall Company aimed to foreclose on a mechanics lien on Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium, claiming repeated nonpayment close to $1 million from a joint venture of Turner Construction Company and AECOM Hunt. The project also dealt with at least $7.8 million in claims throughout 2020.