Orlando took the next step in its ambitious $1.1-billion Community Venues Program in mid-April, moving forward toward a contract to start some interim renovation work at its aging Citrus Bowl. But it also ran into trouble when news spread about a minority contractor listed as performing work at the $480 million Amway Arena who apparently subbed the work out to another firm that was not minority certified.

First, the good news: Turner Construction Co. of Orlando, program manager for the Amway Arena, came in with the $6-million low bid to upgrade the 74-year-old Citrus Bowl. The city must complete negotiations before Turner breaks ground this summer on new restrooms, concession areas and a box office. The company also will be responsible for completing select steel and concrete repairs to the structure, upgrading ground-level concourse lighting and the surface, and sprucing up the stadium with new paint, banners and graphics.

In addition, the city will spend about $2 million for artificial turf to replace natural grass, which deteriorated into a muddy mess during the most recent college football bowl season (embarrassing the city on national television in the process); an emergency generator replacement; a water booster pump replacement; and roof repairs.

The original Venues program called for $175 million for a first-ever renovation of the 1936-era stadium, which is showing its age. The recession put the plans on hold--due to declining revenues to fund the original renovation project--but the city felt it needed to invest some money in order to successfully keep booking college bowl games. The work is scheduled for completion by November.

Now for the bad news. On the same day that the city council selected Turner to manage the Citrus Bowl work, the Orlando Sentinel reported that an MWBE-certified subcontractor on the arena project passed along all of its work to a non-certified firm. Russell Henderson Masonry of Mount Dora, Fla., certified by the city of Orlando as a minority business in concrete and masonry and hired to perform work at the arena as a part of a contract with Gate Precast Co. of Jacksonville, had not set foot in the facility.

The city created a Blueprint plan and set a 24% minority and women-owned business participation goal for the venues projects and as of March had reported MWBE firms had received 36% of the Amway contracts. But now a no-show minority contractor tarnishes what seemed to be stellar efforts to hire 120 minority- and women-owned firms.

Heather Allebaugh, a spokeswoman for Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, says the city continues to investigate what occurred in this case and that some evidence exists that Henderson did work at the Amway Arena site. That includes people who say they saw the firm's owner at the project, and the Internal Revenue Service seized property belonging to Henderson from the arena after it shut the company down in November, according to Allebaugh. Hunt Construction Group, the lead general contractor on the project; the Events Center LLC, the company formed to develop the project by the Orlando Magic; and the city verify all work by minority- and women-owned businesses.

However, Allebaugh acknowledges if people set out to game this or any other system, they probably can. Even so, she says it is not illegal for a subcontractor to further subcontract the work.

"But that's not in the spirit of the Blueprint," Allebaugh says. "We wanted to use this as a workforce development engine and a catalyst for the Parramore area revitalization."

The Sentinel reported that according to Henderson's bankruptcy case, which is unrelated to the Amway Center, Henderson was a subcontractor to Gate and received $1.1 million in work at the arena. However, two days after receiving the award in 2009, Henderson kept $10,000 and passed the contract to a Silver Spring, Md., firm. Henderson's telephone has been disconnected. Gate did not return a request for comment.

Scott Blanchard, vice president of Hunt Construction Group, the lead general contractor on the project, declined to comment, stating it is a legal matter in the courts. Turner did not return requests for comment.

Moving forward, the city will require all Blueprint subcontractors who are further subcontracting their work to notify the city. Venues Special Projects Manager Janeiro Coulter, the city official charged with monitoring the Blueprint program, will continue to check payroll and insurance records.

"There are checks and balances, because we knew going in there are some people who would try to game the system," Allebaugh says. "Janeiro's job is to track down and ensure minorities and women are getting the jobs and benefiting."

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