Broward inspector general: Swimming Hall of Fame's aquatic complex bid process broke law

Recreation Design and Construction won bid for $32-million project

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Without any competition, a company won a bid to build a new aquatic complex for the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale.

"The best interests of the people of Fort Lauderdale have not been served and are not being served by the current project," said Sadler James, who lives on a sailboat on a slip at Las Olas Marina with his wife.

James and others have complained about the city awarding the $32-million project to Recreation Design and Construction.

"There was no doubt the deck was stacked," he said. "Now, whether it was illegally stacked may be questionable, but it stacked."

Broward Inspector General John Scott found problems with the way the city did business.

"The public has been shortchanged to the extent that such a major contract has been let through a flawed process that also violates state law," said Scott.

The city was supposed to receive three bids but only got one -- from a politically-connected company. Scott said laws were broken in the process.

"They, frankly, may have scared away some bidders. We found one or two perspective bidders who actually said, look, if that's the way they want it done, it's a problem," said Scott.

"This contract was not steered to one company. There was no favoritism," said Fort Lauderdale Mayor John "Jack" Seiler.

The mayor said he tried to bring in more businesses but couldn't get the interest.

"I think most developers felt if they're not going to go the size and scope of the project we want to build, we're going to sit this one out and I think that's what happened here," said Seiler.

But Scott said it was the bidding process that drove companies away.

"We will never know whether they could have gotten a better deal," he added.

Construction on the new aquatics center hadn't begun yet. It's expected to be completed sometime in 2015.

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