A coalition of building groups is criticizing Sacramento city officials for not doing more to help local firms win contracts on the massive transit center project in the downtown railyard.
But thanks to restrictions placed on the federal dollars largely funding the project, city officials say there's not much they can do.
A $3.2 million contract is scheduled to be awarded by the City Council tonight for design work at the historic train depot, part of the years-long renovation and construction of a $170 million transportation hub. The firm chosen by city staff for the design contract is Portland, Ore.-based Zimmer Gunsul Frasca, which plans to use five local firms as sub-contractors, according to a city staff report.
A total of 13 firms, some of them headquartered here, responded to a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the work. None of the local firms was interviewed to make the final cut.
That omission prompted a concerned reaction from Region Builders, which represents local builders. In a letter to Mayor Kevin Johnson and the City Council sent last week, Region Builders board president William Porter expressed disappointment that no local firms were "short listed" to the contract's final stage.
"This has discouraged many companies in our industry who cannot see why another premiere city project would yet again go to firms outside of our region, especially when we have such a dire need to create local construction jobs," Porter wrote.
The design phase like much of the transit center project is funded by federal transportation dollars. And those grants prohibit local ordinances like the one used often by Sacramento officials to give preference to local companies, said Fran Halbakken, the downtown railyard project manager.
"We need to meet those requirements when we're using someone else's money," she said.
Region Builders is not trying to derail the contract. But Scott Whyte, the group's political director, said city staffers could do more to encourage local firms to seek work on such large projects.
"In this instance, it just feels like there wasn't that much of an effort," he said.
Halbakken added that even if local preference could be a factor when interviewing firms for the transit center work, companies from the Sacramento area would likely face a disadvantage.
"They're up against firms from all around the country who have done this work internationally," she said, noting that Zimmer Gunsul Frasca is the lead designer on the remodeling of the historic King Street train station in Seattle.
While recognizing that "the city should go with the best and most qualified candidate" on such projects, mayoral spokesman Joaquin McPeek said Johnson would also like to see Sacramento companies given a shot.
"The mayor believes locals deserve a chance to compete whenever possible," McPeek said.