The potential loss of Seattle icon Ivar’s at Sea-Tac’s central terminal reveals the need for changes to the Port of Seattle’s airport concession bidding process.
WHILE the Port of Seattle has made progress improving its airport-concession process, more work remains to be done.
This was evident in the port’s recent decision to boot Seattle icon Ivar’s out of the central terminal at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after 12 years.
Port commissioners need to further improve the concession bidding formula so it gives more weight to the experience and contributions of vendors that are truly local. It should do so before seeking the next round of bids.
Simultaneously, the port should give full consideration of Ivar’s appeal and consider input from outside experts. More than a fish bar is at stake.
As the port begins an expansion of Sea-Tac that will cost nearly $2 billion, it needs the public’s support and faith that its contracting processes are transparent, reasonable and predictable.
Consider what else was on Tuesday’s Port Commission agenda, and overshadowed by the flood of support for Ivar’s: Commissioners voted to disregard public bidding laws on a $450,000 urban-forestry contract. Soon they will borrow $800 million, mostly for the upcoming airport work.
The port updated concession bidding criteria starting in 2014, to encourage more local businesses to participate.
That led to a surge of bidders, noted Aviation Director Lance Lyttle. He called it a “very competitive, very open and fair process.”
Yet there’s still room for improvement. Criteria changes placed greater weight on “concept development” than financial return to the port. They also give equal weight to “small business participation” and the quality of jobs, workforce training and continuity of service and employment.
In a twist of the oyster knife, it was Ivar’s President Bob Donegan who helped the port draft plans to bring more local character to airport concessions during his previous job as a consultant.
Ivar’s also helped the port develop a food-waste handling system as part of its effort to become the greenest port in North America.
Still, Ivar’s lost its bid, despite offering to pay the most for the spot.
Donegan said he was told before the bidding process concluded that Ivar’s wouldn’t win, because it was outscored on nonfinancial criteria. He also received mixed messages from port officials: One said his proposal was too long, another said it was too short.
Ivar’s lost the spot to adjacent concessionaires Kathy Casey and Stacy House, who offered to pay less but scored higher because their venture is a women-owned small business.
Actually, Ivar’s came in third place. It was also outscored in the “small business” category by SSP, a British concession giant operating thousands of airport and rail-station outlets in more than 30 countries. SSP won other large spots at Sea-Tac, partly by offering to source products locally and partner with local firms.
Casey and House plan to open their new Lucky Louie Alaska Fish Shack in the spot now occupied by Ivar’s. It’s unfortunate that one had to bounce the other.
Information in this article, originally published June 14, 2017, was corrected June 14, 2017. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Port of Seattle gave twice as much weight to “small business participation” as it did to the quality of jobs, workforce training and continuity of service and employment. The port says those categories receive equal weight.