New airport terminal's concessions plans hit snag

ATLANTA — The new international terminal at Atlanta's airport is slated to open on time next month, but the Federal Aviation Administration has questions about concessions contracts awarded to four companies.

The FAA had doubts about whether those firms qualified as "disadvantaged businesses," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (http://bit.ly/Izzstt ). The agency also said that two of them had inadequate documentation.

Airports are required to make "good faith efforts" in disadvantaged business programs. The city of Atlanta had a goal of 36 percent participation by disadvantaged businesses in concessions for the new terminal. City documents show obtained by the newspaper show that many of the new contracts fall below that goal without participation by any of the four companies identified by the FAA.

FAA memos say two firms — Atlanta Restaurant Partners LLC and Mack II Inc. — should not have qualified as disadvantaged businesses because they exceed the $750,000 cap on personal net worth. Two other companies — Vida Concessions and Hojeij Branded Foods — had inadequate documentation.

Together the four won a significant share of the concessions contracts.

One company that lost out during the contract process had already filed a motion Friday to renew its appeal of the contract selection process.

"The City can either continue to put its head in the sand and deny that its bid procurement process was completely unlawful or it can finally do what is right by disqualifying the bidders," losing concessionaire SSP America Inc. wrote in its motion.

City council member Felicia Moore voted against the concession contracts during council review. She said she's worried about the disadvantaged business program being tainted.

"The city of Atlanta is known nationally and historically as being a vanguard and at the forefront of the support and creation of minority participation in contracting, and I don't want our reputation for that to be diminished in any way," she told the newspaper.

The Georgia Department of Transportation, one of the bodies that certified the four companies in question, said it is reviewing the FAA's letter and its disadvantaged business files. The department plans on responding to the FAA.

The contracts' approval last winter was considered important to the new terminal's scheduled opening by May 16. The new international terminal, more than a decade in the making, was added to the world's busiest airport to accommodate growing overseas travel.