Was the Fix In? A report by the city’s airport consultant shows that he had a preference for the national brands a month before the selection committee reviewed the proposals for a 10-year concession contract at the Pensacola International Airport.
The Independent News obtained consultant Richard Chinsammy’s early analysis of the proposals the city of Pensacola received for food services at the Pensacola International Airport. The analysis, labeled “Assessment of Response Participation” was sent to the city on June 26. Airport Director Greg Donovan didn’t name his selection committee until July 12.
Chinsammy only mentions the OHM Concessions proposal of Chick-fil-A, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Surf City Squeeze and Corona Beach House and completely ignores a Creative Food Group proposal that included Bagelheads, Varona’s, the Fish House and Pensacola Bay Brewery.
“OHM’s proposal presents the PNS passengers [and the City] with a nationally recognized program, which allows us to compete with larger airports such as Atlanta,” wrote Chinsammy. “OHM clearly understood the vision articulated by the RFP and the pre-proposal conference.”
The vision to which Chinsammy referred appears to be in direct conflict with “Concession Program Goals” laid out in the Request for Proposal: “The City encourages all proposers to consider supporting local vendors and businesses. Proposers are urged to incorporate a ‘buy local’ program into their proposal.”
The consultant was enthusiastic in his praise of OHM. “OHM presents PNS with a F&B (food and beverage) lineup that far exceeds any program in peer airports…,” he stated. “There is no Chick-fil-A in any airport our size in North America … This is a line-up that will resonate with our passengers.”
Chinsammy made it clear that the vision was to get rid of Varona’s, which has held the contract for the past decade, and replace it with national brands. That vision was never defined in the RFP.
He wrote, “Our vision was always a National Program with an operator who is not too large to lose focus on the service, standards and systems lacking in our programs for the past 10 years. I believe that we will be able to realize this goal.”
The selection committee narrowly recommended OHM a month later. However, a Pensacola City Council meeting on Sept. 26 didn’t go as well for Chinsammy, Donovan and Mayor Ashton Hayward.
The council chamber was packed that night with Pensacola citizens holding signs reading “Vote Local.” The constant thread weaving all of the speakers together was the concept of local flavor and the way that local businesses will give back to the community on a much greater scale. The chambers erupted in applause several times as the speakers made their pleas to the council.
“The RFP clearly states ‘local concepts reflective of the city of Pensacola,’” Rob Mackey, owner of Bagelheads, said. “We took that to mean they actually wanted local companies involved. Apparently, what they really wanted was to be the first small airport with a Chick-fil-A.”
“We have the unique opportunity to bring local foods, local concepts and local owners into our airport, welcoming new people to Pensacola with something they cannot get at home,” Mackey said. “We can provide them with hand-crafted beer, brewed right here. Fresh fish caught right here. Artisan coffees roasted here. Fresh bread and bagels made here. If this is the type of experience you want visitors to your airport to have, our team can make that happen. If you want a glorified mall with airplanes, then you should accept the mayor’s proposal.”
After hearing arguments supporting the local side for over an hour, the council moved to revisit the issue on Oct. 10.