The Gainesville City Commission will implement an unsolicited proposal process until Nov. 1 after approval of staff’s plan at its regular meeting on Thursday.
The commission asked for staff to bring back an unsolicited proposal process after concern rose last year around how a proposed grocery store project arrived before the commission.
“One of the reasons we asked Interim Manager [Cynthia] Curry for this was because of the overwhelming outcry from the public regarding the process and the situation that grew out of the grocery store,” Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said at the meeting.
The East Gainesville grocery store project went before the commission during the summer, and multiple commissioners expressed concern about the unsolicited proposal and how closed the process had been.
In response, the commission opened up a request for proposal that would align with what the unsolicited proposal offered. Ultimately, the grocery store project failed six months later after the due process.
Curry said the city rarely receives unsolicited proposals. She could only think of two—the grocery store and UF Health’s offer to build an eastside urgent care clinic.
“We probably need to have something to be able to capture some of that activity and energy out there to help us along with moving projects,” Curry said.
The process offers two different routes: one for conceptual proposals and one for detailed proposals.
The fee for a conceptual proposal is $1,000 and the detailed proposal costs $5,000 to submit. However, if a conceptual proposal passes the first two benchmarks, it becomes a detailed proposal and requires the additional $4,000 for the fee to total $5,000.
Curry noted that the estimated cost to staff runs around $16,000 so the fees represent a reduced cost. The backup items also showed how some Florida cities require unsolicited proposals to pay the full staff cost with the estimated average fee being $19,400.
Gainesville staff added provisions so that the commission can waive the fee for nonprofits.
If the proposal passes the first two steps, the city would open a request for proposals that allows other companies to pitch plans for the project. Then the commission would have the final say.
Commissioner Harvey Ward said people had approached him a couple of times in the last three years with ideas, but without a process in place, the proposals died.
“Having a path means something might happen,” Ward said. “Letting it be difficult to understand means that it just won’t get done unless somebody has deep enough pockets and prior experience to go get it done.”
Mayor Lauren Poe agreed and noted the unsolicited proposal process was only a pilot program, saying the commission could vote to end or continue it down the road.
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos called the process bureaucratic and said the process could stifle growth. He opted for Gainesville to stick with state statute on the issue.
“I think this policy puts in more barriers for economic development in East Gainesville,” Hayes-Santos said.
City Auditor Virginia Bigbie said the best practice would be for the city to create a process. She said the risk of fraud or other malfeasance increases without one.
The commission voted 6-1, with Hayes-Santos in dissent, to approve the pilot until Nov. 1.