Time For A Switch To Get The Convention Center On Track, Let's Go The General Contractor Route

Posted: July 29, 1990

The Center City convention center is being built at an old train station, but the project has never been on a fast track - and it certainly isn't today. Stalled by delays in work on the Reading Terminal and a court challenge to the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority's minority-contracting program, the project needs to be revved up so that construction can resume by autumn. And that may require hiring a general contractor to build the entire project, a move that would represent a major change in the authority's approach to the construction.

By switching to a general contractor now, the authority could be in a better position to meet three goals that are crucial to the success of this project: finishing it on time, on budget and with substantial participation

from black and other minority contractors.

The original construction plans called for hiring 40 contractors to build the $523 millon project under the supervision of a construction- management staff. That approach made sense at first, because the convention center authority was in a rush to get some work under way before all the blueprints were finished. What's more, it seemed this approach would better ensure that minority contractors got their share. Now, however, the drawings are virtually complete, and it's become clear that it may be less cumbersome to meet affirmative action goals with a general contractor.

Earlier this month, the convention center authority decided to seek preliminary proposals from contractors. Despite that, there remain skeptics who doubt that the cost would be lower this way, or that it would increase the involvement of minority contractors. They also object to opening the door to major, out-of-town contractors who would be strong favorites to land the job.

But on each count, the general contractor is a good bet. Bids already are coming in lower than expected, so there's every reason to believe a general contractor - with the power to negotiate subcontractors' prices - would keep them low. Even with a general contractor from elsewhere, local union laborers would be hired except in rare instances, and local contractors would get the lion's share of the subcontracts.

Whether it would be easier to meet the minority-contracting goals of the project is subject to debate. The affirmative-action procedures would remain much the same. The advantage may be that it would simplify the whole process to have everyone dealing with one major player who would be contractually obligated to offer opportunities to minority contractors.

Within two weeks, the convention center authority will know which general contractors are interested. If the companies are capable, the general- contractor approach appears to be the way to switch the project onto the fast track.

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