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Turf Dispute Could Impact MEAC/SWAC Challenge Field Conditions
You thought the mud debacle at the Citrus Bowl was bad?
Just wait. The long-anticipated installation of artificial turf could be caught up in a legal tangle, potentially damaging the hopes of putting in the new turf in time for the 2010 season.
FieldTurf has questioned the way the city awarded AstroTurf the contract to put in the new grass, and is now threatening legal action.
Darren Gill, vice president of marketing for FieldTurf, said in a phone interview, “This is not a case of sour grapes, but when the bidding laws aren’t abided by it should be a concern of the citizens of Orlando.”
Gill said the company has requested various documents from the City of Orlando through the Freedom of Information Act and is in the process of determining whether it should take legal action.
Rather than go through a public bidding process for the artificial turf, the City of Orlando chose to go through national purchasing co-ops. Both companies already have established contracts through their respective co-ops. The city is a member of both co-ops, so they were allowed to utilize their services.
The city then took a look at both contracts and went with AstroTurf “because of the quality, installation, history and pricing,” according to City of Orlando spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser.
FieldTurf has no problem with the city using the co-op. But the company contends that AstroTurf is trying to use another company’s license to get the work done in the state. “That licensee is not authorized to do business under that co-op that they’re trying to use to purchase this product,” Gill said. “Under local law they are not allowed to do that.”
In response, Lafser said, “The city council approved the use of that contract and for us to enter negotiations. We don’t have anything formalized yet. If there are any licenses that need to be required that will be part of the process, we will do that. The city would never do anything illegal.”
AstroTurf says the allegations are nonsense, saying the licensing has nothing to do with the co-op. “We’re perfectly qualified,” said Rusty Russell, Southeastern Regional Manager for AstroTurf. “We have double and triple checked ourselves on top of that, the city officials have really done a very professional job in this in a tight timeframe. They also double checked it. We are in no violation. We are perfectly qualified.”
FieldTurf has taken legal action to halt a competitor’s turf from being installed. Earlier this month, a judge refused FieldTurf’s request for an injunction to block the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission from installing Sportexe’s product. FieldTurf claimed the selection was “arbitrary and capricious” and asked the court to declare FieldTurf as the winner of the contract.
The suit, however, wasn’t completely dismissed, and FieldTurf will ask for damages from the commission.
When asked what the end game was to potential legal action against Orlando, Gill said, “At one point we believe we were the preferred supplier for them. The last thing we want to do is upset a potential customer. Our object is to make sure local laws are followed. At this point I’m not sure what our next step will be.”
Legal action could tie up the installation process set for this summer. There is a very short window for the turf to be installed before the Citrus Bowl hosts the MEAC/SWAC Challenge on Sept. 5. That is the last thing the city needs after the Capital One Bowl debacle, in which the grass turned to mud because of weather conditions and cold weather.
Andrea Adelson, Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer