Bidders Say Archives Site Selection Rushed, Risky

Finding a location to temporarily house material for the Clinton Library was something of a mad scramble that left a bad taste in the mouths of also-rans.

But development of the Clinton Materials Project is apparently in keeping with past presidential archives projects.

Moses Nosari Tucker Real Estate Inc. of Little Rock put together the winning proposal for Fred Balch III. His former Oldsmobile dealership in downtown Little Rock is undergoing conversion and expansion into a high-tech, high-security storage facility.

As the landlord for the presidential materials, Balch will collect $1.6 million annually in rent. The rental rate is so steep because Balch must recover all his renovation costs in only three years.

Although the lease agreement is for six years, the government has the option of terminating it any time after Oct. 16, 2003.

If the National Archives vacates after three years, Balch will be looking at a $1.3 million gross profit after investing $3.5 million to add 20,000 SF to the facility and to make needed improvements. Utilities, management fees, insurance, property taxes and any interest expenses from borrowing construction funds will eat into the $1.3 million.

But Balch stands to reap a financial windfall should the National Archives remain in the building more than three years. With all his investment recouped, Balch would pocket more than $100,000 each month his tenant stays after October 2003.

The possible catch is that a daily fine of $20,000 can be imposed if the project isn’t delivered on Oct. 16.

“We’re spooked about it,” Jimmy Moses said. “We remain confident about doing it on time, but we’re still nervous.”

Three Finalists

The General Services Administration advertised for properties to house the Clinton materials and attracted a dozen candidates for consideration. A six-member scout team from the GSA and National Archives, augmented by security professionals, spent a week in Little Rock visiting the sites and checking out the possibilities.

The list was pared to three properties: the Balch site at 1000 La Harpe Blvd., the vacant Target store at 801 John Barrow Road and the 401 Shall Ave. warehouse near the Clinton Library site. The GSA sent out its “solicitation for offers” to these three finalists and asked them to put together a bid package on the project.

The request for office and archival storage space encompassed 50,000 SF of rentable space to yield a minimum of 43,247 usable SF and 25 on-site parking spaces. The solicitation for offers packet includes 37 pages of specifications plus 50 pages of special requirements and exhibits pertaining to the special requirements.

“The specifications are down to the size of the sheetrock screws you use, literally,” said Moses, who learned of the project through newspaper advertisements.

The deadline for submitting offers was March 17. A final decision was scheduled to be made no later than May 15.

Preferential treatment was to be given to sites in the central business district, thanks to a presidential mandate that dates back to the Carter administration.

The solicitation for offers notes: “The other area of consideration to be given will be within one mile of Parkview High School, which supports the President’s goals to promote education.” It’s unclear why Parkview High School was singled out from any other school in Little Rock, except the vacant Target location is a mile or so north of it.

But the GSA didn’t hold the finalists to the letter of the law where geographic parameters were concerned. All downtown properties to be considered were supposed to be within a half-mile of the Clinton library site.

Even the Balch property, located a mile west of the Interstate 30 bridge, didn’t meet this overly stringent requirement. Only the 401 Shall Ave. warehouse fit within the geographic boundary spelled out in the solicitation for offers.

Tommy Lasiter, vice president with The Doyle Rogers Co., recalls that someone in the office came across the presidential archives project on the GSA’s web site and thought was given initially to submitting the old Blass Building at 312 S. Main St.

However, upon further exploration, it was learned the GSA was looking for a single-story structure, not a seven-story building. Attention was then turned to the vacant, 80,000-SF Target store in the Rogers-owned West Village Shopping Center in west Little Rock.

Of the three finalists, the vacant retail space could easily accommodate the storage needs for the archives. It could have been modified with relative ease and would require no new construction that could be hindered by rain.

Lasiter assembled CWR Construction Co. of North Little Rock and Canino Peckham Associates Inc. of Little Rock as the contractor/architect team for the project.

“We made a proposal,” Lasiter said. “But we came up short. We felt like our contractor could deliver the space. We knew weather wouldn’t be a problem.”

What’s the Rush?

Harold Burlingame of Tulsa, owner of the 401 Shall Ave. warehouse, learned of the archives project when his leasing agent spotted a newspaper ad asking for properties to be considered. His 113,000-SF, 3.1-acre development, located about seven blocks from the Clinton Library site, drew favorable attention.

However, Burlingame grew disenchanted with pursuing the project as details came out in discussions with government officials.

“I understood we were in the top three, but the target was moving all the time,” he said. “It seemed to me they were padding a file to make a show that they had made a competitive effort.

“There was no way we could do what they were asking us to do. The term of the lease shortened up, and the amount of money needed to do it kept getting greater and greater. If you stubbed your toe once, you were going to be out a lot of money.”

A five-month construction schedule with demanding specifications and enforced with severe financial penalties for missing the completion deadline was a daunting prospect.

Burlingame’s would-be contractor on the project was CBM Construction Co. of North Little Rock.

“I thought the timetable was completely out of line with the scope of what they were trying to accomplish,” said Ron Boyeskie, vice president with CBM. “From the time we got the package till we had a very preliminary meeting was too short.

“From what was presented to us, it was not worth the effort it would take to generate a pricing package. The information they provided was so sketchy. There was question upon question upon question.”

The Burlingame group met with GSA officials, reviewed the information and in April collectively said, “No, I don’t want to play.”

“It was going to take a lot of money to generate a response, and I didn’t want to commit our resources to that,” Boyeskie said. “If you own the property, you have a chance at a high-risk, high-reward project.”

But he wondered why the GSA didn’t begin the process months earlier. After all, he points out, they’ve known since 1996 when the president was scheduled to leave office.

“That was my question,” Boyeskie said. “Their response was that it was this way on every archive project. To me, that’s a very inefficient way to spend taxpayer money.”

Converting a bowling alley in College Station, Texas, to temporary storage space for the Bush archives was a 90-day project from start to finish, according to the GSA.

“That was a fast turn-around,” said Lisa Jo McCollough, contracting officer in the Fort Worth office of the General Services Administration.

Major Military Operation

The Clinton administration has amassed the largest collection of material of any presidency. The transportation of 67,000 cubic-feet of stuff is being described as a major military deployment. The shipping logistics will include shuttling presidential material from Washington, D.C., to the Little Rock Air Force Base.

National Archives officials estimate that eight of the U.S. Air Force’s giant C-5 Galaxy cargo jets will be needed to fly the crated goods from Washington, D.C., to Jacksonville. The archives cargo will be transferred to trucks at the base, where a military convoy will form and depart for the Clinton Materials Project in Little Rock.

Unloading the archives freight into storage is clocked at eight hours. Given the high-security nature of the hauling job, some believe it will be conducted under cover of darkness.

The move will likely be over and done before anyone knows about it, except for local law enforcement officials who will aid the effort. How many trucks will be involved is uncertain.

As one observer noted, Little Rock may not have seen this many military vehicles rumble across the Arkansas River since members of the 101st Airborne Division came to town in 1957 at the request of President Dwight Eisenhower.


Headline: Time Is Money for Archive Project

The penalty provision of the Clinton Materials Project initially was set at $1,000 for every day office space was not completed by Oct. 16. Damages for not getting the storage space prepared on time was even steeper.

“The government may charge an estimated minimum of $20,000 per day if the shelf units can not be installed in the space by Nov. 1. This date may be adjusted as the president determines the actual move dates for the materials.”

Chad Young, designer at Wittenberg Delony & Davidson Inc. of Little Rock, has never seen a hammer this big wielded to enforce a construction deadline.

“That’s very unusual,” he said. “That’s lingering over our heads. It all boils down to Oct. 16. Construction started on May 5, and we’re on a critical deadline.”

In many respects, the redevelopment is a conventional office/warehouse project.

“But the level of security and electronic detection devices is where it’s interesting,” Young said. “There are big areas that will hold things we don’t even know about in the security vault. The only thing are tape lines on the floor designating a big item will go here.”

He reports that construction is progressing well, with no snags under the direction of Little Rock’s East-Harding Inc. Materials are ordered for the 20,000-SF expansion, and the steel is scheduled to be up and the new portion “in the dry” by the end of July.

The existing 30,000-SF building will be reroofed after its load-bearing capacity is beefed up to handle the heating and cooling units hung inside and on the roof.

“One of the things we’re working against is these are metal buildings, and the temperature and humidity control requirements [for the archives] are like those of a library,” Young said.

The specifications call for maintaining 40-45 percent humidity with an air temperature not to exceed 70 degrees (plus or minus 4 degrees) inside the project. In the battle for atmospheric control, insulation is added to the block walls and above the ceiling.

The renovated confines will house 18 archivists sorting through reams of presidential paperwork and crates of executive goodies. The comfortable surroundings will be something the sweat-soaked mechanics that once worked in the building could only dream of.

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