The New BWI Airport Concessions Contract Bid May Have Been Rigged

Baltimore Washington International Airport plans to drop the company running its concessions – restaurants and shops – in favor of a brand new company headed by a former state governor’s Chief of Staff, who will turn the actual work over to HMSHost. And the bidding process sure looks like it was rigged.

The Maryland Aviation Administration has selected New Market Development Joint Venture, LLC to replace Fraport which has managed concessions at BWI for 18 years. The company, owned by a former chief of staff to former Gov. Parris Glendening, has only existed for one year. It was formed to go after this contract, which now goes to the state’s Secretary of Transportation and Board of Public Works for final sign off.

This isn’t for a 7- or 10-year contract, either, it’s a plum 20-year commitment. And the process may have been gamed to give it to them:

[T]he state’s Request for Proposal to find a new operator of the airport’s concessions was changed twice after it was issued in ways that put New Market Development at an advantage.

…The alliances have paid off: The original RFP that the state issued to solicit bidders required that companies bidding for the new contract have a minimum of seven consecutive years within the past decade running an airport concession. That requirement would have disqualified New Market Development from competing for the bid.

But weeks later, the RFP was changed, without explanation, to merely require that executives associated with the company have a minimum of seven consecutive years over the past decade managing an airport concession contract — a move that put Riddick’s company back in the running.

The RFP was also altered in a way that benefited Riddick when it came to a provision on minority subcontracting, as Riddick’s company is minority owned.

The company owner has been a significant contributor to decision-makers on the contract, in at least one case beyond legal limits. The airport administration’s director raises political funds, and involved bidders on the concessions contract in his efforts. Concessions revenue at the airport exceeds $100 million per year. With so much at stake, competitors saw the process as rigged.

“I think this stinks to high heaven,” said one executive with an airport concessions development company, who like many people interviewed for this story requested anonymity because there is a blackout for bidders and other stakeholders to comment publicly on the procurement while the Maryland Aviation Administration examines the bids for the concessions contract. “I think the fix is in.”

Is it any surprise that the former Governor’s Chief of Staff partnered with HMSHost to do the actual work, since HMSHost appears to be the beneficiary of a corrupt contracting process at the St. Louis airport as well?

Whether Fraport, HMSHost, Delaware North, or OTG, captive consumers at the airport are likely to be served poor options. None of these companies deliver a quality product. But the process that selects them doesn’t do so on the basis of delivering quality to passengers. For airports, passengers are the product not the customer.

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