A developer has disputed the City of Tampa’s decision to award West Tampa’s “Rome Yard” development contract to a Miami-based group, and there’s a hearing about it set for May 12.
The hearing was supposed to happen this morning, but Lansing Scriven, counsel for Invictus, LLC—which is disputing the City of Tampa’s preliminary selection of Related Urban Development group to redevelop the public land—asked for a continuance since there was an email address error which delayed the delivery of materials for the hearing.
There were no objections to Scriven’s request, so the hearing will happen on May 12 at 9:30 a.m. on the third floor of the City of Tampa Construction Services Center located at 1400 N Blvd. near Interstate 275. Afterwards, a Pasco-based mediator, James B. Mathieu Jr., will have seven days to deliver a decision.
On Wednesday, City Attorney Gina Grimes told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that the meeting is administrative and not subject to Sunshine Laws, so there will not be a link to watch online. The room, however, is open to anyone from the public who would like to attend.
Scriven would not comment for this story.
Grimes said that opening the room is an attempt at transparency over the selection of Related Group to develop the Rome Yard. Grimes did not have a clear answer when asked why documents related to Invictus LLC’s protest weren’t uploaded to the City of Tampa’s RFP portal, but did note that they are available via the public records request process.
Throughout this process, no one from Invictus or Related—which also donated to Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s election PAC and employs her nephew—would speak on the record citing a cone of silence gag order. City Council will eventually have to OK the final contract between Related and the city, but no one from the city outside of Grimes and city spokesperson Janelle MacGregor has been available to speak on the record.
In part of its protest, Invictus alleges that the final selection committee for the Rome Yard project modified the selection criteria and scoring set forth in the request for proposal, calling the modification “arbitrary and capricious.”
The protest details how, on March 5, the city released a scoring summary outlining the Technical Review Committee's evaluation of the six proposals. In the March 5 scorecard, Invictus has the highest total score (92.4), followed by Related (84.6) and the eventual third finalist for the project, TRS/Onicx (83.9).
The protest adds that during interviews with the three finalists on March 12 at Tampa Convention Center, committee member one—Joe Robinson, according to the Tampa Bay Times—made a motion to change the scoring criteria by eliminating scores that the city’s Equal Business Opportunity Department had assigned in regard to participation of firms with women and minorities in stakeholder positions.
In the protest, committee member two is quoted as saying, “I’m just concerned that we’re now redoing the scoring matrix and taking something out that was already in an objective format and was part of the criteria.”
In response, according to the protest, committee member one, who made the motion to change the scoring, said, “See, I’m here on a final selection committee, so I don’t care what they did with the preliminary short list. That gets thrown out… “
Committee member three then says, “I don’t know that we can just make a decision to eliminate [the scores] from consideration,” before committee member four presents a rationale that Invictus has disputed in its protest, saying, in part that the Final Selection Committee exceeded its discretion by eliminating those scores.
Still, the motion passed and reduced points available in that category from 105 to 85—but in recordings available in Invictus’ protest, the Times says even Carol Post, Tampa’s administrator for economic opportunity and development raised concerns about Robinson’s motion.
An updated scorecard dated March 12 and issued in a city response to the protest shows scores with the new scoring criteria and finds Related jumping up in scoring and ahead of Invictus.
Invictus’ protest says, in part, that no provision in the RFP permitted the final selection committee to rewrite the selection criteria or create a new scoring matrix.
Invictus’ protest also alleges that Related violated a cone of silence, which says:
During any solicitation period, including any protest and/or appeal, no contact with city officers or employees, other than with the individuals specifically identified in the solicitation, the director of the soliciting department or the legal department, is permitted from any bidder or proposer. Such communication shall result in an automatic disqualification for selection in the pending solicitation and any subsequent city solicitations for a period of six (6) months, no matter the outcome of the solicitation or any protest and/or appeal.
Invictus argues that on March 18, “A member of Related, as well as members of the Tampa House Authority (Related’s co-developer)” attended a press conference where a member of city council, other city employees and the mayor were in attendance. As previously noted, city council will have to approve the city’s final contract with Related.
The protest says that some of the city employees present at the press conference are “not among the City officials or employees with whom members of Related are permitted to have contact during the solicitation period.”
In conclusion, Invictus’ protest asks that the city’s notice of intent to award Related the Rome Yard project should be overturned and that Related should be automatically disqualified from the solicitation due to its violation of the cone of silence.
In response to Invictus’ protest, the City of Tampa justified its scoring changes by saying that during the final selection committee review phase, there was a suggestion that that Equal Business Opportunity Participation was already considered during a technical review process “and had been fully credited towards each proposer’s respective EBO score, that the Final Selection Committee did not need to revisit as part of the Selection Committee review process.”
The city also argued that “Once a recommendation has been made by the City to award a contract, the City is perfectly within its legal rights to make an announcement regarding its decision. There was no Cone of Silence violation made by RUDG, LLC regarding the City’s announcement.”
The city’s response, however, does not directly address Invictus’ claim that “The Cone of Silence unambiguously provides that if it is violated, the offending Developer shall be automatic[ally] disqualified for selection in the pending solicitation… no matter the outcome of solicitation or any protest and/or appeal.”
What’s not in the protest
As previously reported when the City of Tampa sent CL Invictus LLC’s Bid Protest Bond, records show that Related donated $10,000 to Mayor Jane Castor’s election PAC and currently employs her nephew, Alex Castor.
While Jane Castor is not the only U.S. mayor who’s accepted money from developers, Related’s donation to her PAC was its largest ever as a company, and it was a rarity. The developer has only donated to one other political candidate in Florida, and that was $1,000 in January of 2020 to Miami Beach State Rep. Michael Grieco, who besides overseeing their “largest market,” had previously pleaded no contest for campaign finance violations, and was accused of bribery, among other things.
Disclosure of Alex Castor’s employment was also not required on the RFP, but Darryl Paulson, a retired Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, told CL that, “When you have a direct family relationship to the mayor, at the very least, it should be pointed out so decision makers can reach their own conclusion.”
“Why would you not disclose such information? It may not be an issue, but the committee making the decision needs to know this, as well as the citizens of Tampa,” Paulson added. “It is like saying non-disclosure is preferable to full disclosure. It makes no sense to me.”
A rep for the City of Tampa told CL that, “At no point was Mayor Castor involved in any part of this RFP selection process, which took place in a very public and transparent manner and under the close watch of concerned community members operating independent of the City.”
But the bad optics don’t stop there. Two days after CL’s story on the protest published, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Ballard Partners—one of the country’s most powerful lobbying firms—was working for Related during the RFP process. Castor’s partner, Ana Cruz, works for Ballard.
Todd Josko, a Ballard partner, would not say how much his company was paid, but told the Times he was hired by Related to help prepare the developers for their presentation before the selection committee in March.
The Times reported that Castor said “that Ballard’s participation in the process was above board.” Josko said there was “zero conflict,” and Cruz added that, “Jane and I agreed when she decided to run for mayor that I wouldn’t profit from any business that Ballard does before the city. This has and will continue to be the case.”
Invictus’ bond basically says that the firm will pay up to $20,000 if it loses its protest.
So far, as of April 21, nobody in the city has been able to definitively comment on why the same documents provided to CL have not been uploaded to the city’s RFP portal. The last “Rome Yard” memo on the portal is a March 17 notice of the city’s intent to award the project to Related.
As of today—despite the fact that city council must still approve a deal, and that a protest hearing is still pending—parts of the Rome Yard fencing on N Boulevard are wrapped in signage bearing Related’s name.
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