The Casper City Council has postponed discussion of a plan to replace $2.5 million of federal money with local money in a controversial Casper Area Economic Development Alliance business incubator project at the request of the agency head.
CAEDA President and CEO Robert Barnes said CAEDA is exploring "other options" but wouldn't say why he asked the City Council to hold off.
The postponement comes the day after the Amoco Reuse Agreement Joint Powers Board voted to increase its contribution to the incubator project by $500,000. That board had previously committed $1.5 million to the project.
Public officials tied to the incubator have been trying to broker an agreement among the project's major backers since more than 150 people attended a standing-room-only meeting last week to express outrage over a federally approved process that excluded local contractors from a "construction manager" contract to oversee $8 million of construction on the incubator.
Using local money instead of federal money tied to the controversial process would allow CAEDA to restart bidding, giving local contractors another shot at the construction dollars. The "manager" contract would be worth about 8 percent of the construction budget, and all the construction would still have to be bid. Contractors weren't shut out of the actual construction bidding, which has not yet occurred.
Representatives of the city of Casper, the Amoco Reuse Agreement and Economic Development joint powers boards, CAEDA, and Casper College met Monday to "solidify" the plan presented to the Amoco board Tuesday night, according to City Council Vice President Paul Bertoglio.
After the meeting, the plan was put into letter form by Amoco board chairman Scott Sissman and outlined $2.5 million in replacement money and the strings attached to the cash infusion. One provision in the proposal prohibits CAEDA from using the money to fight lawsuits that may follow a reversal in the federally approved process. Another requires CAEDA to use the "hard bid" process described by contractors.
Media were not alerted to the Monday meeting of public officials discussing the expenditure of $10 million of public money. Bertoglio said the meeting was held to see if the will existed among the key officials to try a new plan. The funding proposal the group agreed to -- replacing federal money with local money -- still has to be approved by the other groups kicking in new money.
The plan called for the city of Casper to give CAEDA $1.5 million in addition to its current $150,000 contribution. That was not discussed, as first scheduled, at Thursday's meeting.
The Economic Development Joint Powers Board will also consider a $500,000 increase atop its $1.5 million contribution to completely replace federal money in the project.
Even if the three local entities agree to increase their contributions, the CAEDA board would have to approve the plan. Four board members contacted Thursday morning, including Casper Mayor Bill Brauer, said board members agreed not to answer media questions and referred all calls to Barnes, who declined to provide any additional information.
One option discussed at Wednesday's Amoco meeting would allow CAEDA to keep some of the federal money already spent on architects, as that portion of the project has already been bid and contracted. Barnes has said repeatedly that changing the bid process CAEDA chose for the "manager" job would force the organization to give the federal money back.