PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Board of Elections’ planned move to Cranston is being challenged by a would-be landlord who questions why the state negotiated a lease outside the formal bidding process.
Lawyers for Mutual Properties 14 Thurber LLC, a company that made a proposal to rent offices at 14 Thurber Blvd. in Smithfield to the Board of Elections, filed a protest of the proposed Cranston lease Wednesday, alleging the state improperly terminated an RFP to strike a deal with a non-bidder.
They also urged lawmakers not to approve the BOE lease in testimony to the House Finance Committee on Wednesday night.
“Mutual Properties asserts that its proposed bid meets and exceeds all of the specifications of the RFP,” John Mancini, an attorney representing Mutual Properties, wrote in the protest letter to the state Department of Administration. “Moreover, the [state] nonchalantly dismissed all of the bidders without reason and basis, despite the requirements that each bid be evaluated, properly scored and analyzed in accordance with the RFP specifications.”
The protest asks the state to scuttle the proposed Cranston lease and restart the site-selection process, or face court action.
The state is proposing to move the Board of Elections, which currently lives in a state-owned building on Branch Avenue in Providence, into 65,000 square feet of leased space at 2000 Plainfield Pike in Cranston that’s owned by Dean Warehouse Services. The lease in Cranston would run 10 years starting in November at a total cost of $6.5 million.
Mutual Properties was one of four landlords that submitted bids in response to an RFP for the Board of Elections offices, according to state purchasing documents. Dean Warehouse attended a pre-bid conference for the RFP, but did not submit a bid.
After looking at the four bids that came in, the State Properties Committee canceled the RFP at the end of May without explanation to the bidders and began talks directly with Dean.
“In this case the Board of Elections [staff] did not find any of the bids desirable and we went out to see if there was an alternative,” Director of Administration Michael DiBiase told the Journal about the lease.
He said he didn’t know precisely who reached out to Dean after canceling the RFP or why.
But DiBiase said Dean offered lower rent than any of the formal bidders including Mutual Properties (which was the lowest of the four.) The formal bids have not been made public and DiBiase declined to say exactly how far Dean had come in under Mutual Properties’ bid.
“The total rent is less, but the place is more desirable as well,” DiBiase said.
Nicholas Goodier, a lawyer representing Mutual Properties before lawmakers Wednesday, did not say what Mutual had proposed to charge in rent for the Smithfield space. Mutual principal Stephen Soscia could not be immediately reached.
State law requires legislative approval for leases of five years or longer, but does not require a formal RFP process. DiBiase said the state had done an RFP to try to get the best offers possible, but was under no legal obligation to choose any of the bids.
Board of Elections Executive Director Robert Rapoza wrote in an email that the RFP was canceled because “there were issues with each of the submittals.”
By Patrick Anderson
Journal Staff Writer