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Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Developer protests State Fair Authority’s bid process

Developers who say their plans for a “Superbarn” Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds were spurned last year are now calling the State Fair Authority’s actions illegal and a “fantasy.”

The action comes from Florida lobbyist Barney Bishop as a long list of project ideas have circled the Fairgrounds, ranging from a hotel and casino to a baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Bishop’s group, Sovereign Investments, had last May proposed a project at the Fairgrounds for a $100 million Exposition Hall and parking facility to stage events as large as rodeos and tractor pulls. As the months wore on, Bishop’s group complained the Fairground Authority was taking too long.

Instead of addressing the proposal directly, the Authority in November issued an “Invitation to Participate” for developers to submit ideas for a much larger project, and called out the potential for retail, a hotel and uses “synergistic to the overall mission of the annual State Fair.”

One developer in the mix is Republic Land Development, which in 2010 proposed a project with shopping, hotel and sports complex, and a baseball stadium, though the group has since backed off the stadium. Republic officials could not be reached Friday.

In a letter to the Authority sent Thursday, Bishop called the process of soliciting bids “illegal,” demanded it be withdrawn, and claimed it violated state rules regarding open solicitations for bids, partly because it did not use a set of rules that allows for challenges by other bidders. Bishop detailed other issues, including “vagueness” of a points system, “lack of any specific points given for Minority Business Enterprises participation,” and the requirement that bidders submit $50,000 to apply.

“In conclusion, this procurement is a fantasy,” Bishop wrote. “It does not exist under Florida law, and the Authority cannot issue” the invitation.

Bishop said his group would not submit a new proposal because it believed the Board had already made up its mind, and the Authority’s request for proposals asked for a larger redevelopment — precluding the opportunity for a Superbarn.

The Authority received one proposal by the deadline Friday, said Charles Pesano of the Florida State Fair Authority. “We haven’t even had a chance to look at it yet.”

He declined to make the proposal available for review or to disclose the applicant’s name. As for the Bishop group’s claims, Pesano said, “Our attorneys reviewed the process and the board approved it.”

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