Plagued by financial difficulties, Orlando’s $383-million Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts moved a step closer to breaking ground with the naming of PCL Construction Services as owner’s representative.

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A rendering of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center. (Image courtesy DPAC)

A City of Orlando project, part of the city's $1-billion "Venues" program, the center has faced schedule delays and financial challenges from the recession, with falling tourist-tax revenues and dwindling donations. The city phased the project, hoping it would have enough money to build the facility's first two theaters, and hired Balfour Beatty Construction of Orlando as construction manager. But then subcontractor bids came in higher than expected, so the center’s board asked the county for a $30-million bridge loan.

That led newly elected Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs to take a serious look at the project. She and the county comptroller didn't like what they found, such as a shortfall in private donations. They subsequently expressed concerns about the budget, high construction costs and general conditions - including a $1,025-per-month car allowance for Balfour Beatty’s senior vice president and a 62.1% markup on the firm’s on-site supervisory personnel’s salaries.

Subsequent to the initial county report, the team has negotiated with Balfour Beatty and reduced the shortfall on the guaranteed maximum price for phase one to $17 million, says Tim Ackert, project director for the Orlando Venues Program. The city has funding to cover $185 million for the design and construction of phase one. That $17-million deficit includes a $1.2 million commodity escalation associated with a 60-day extension of the subcontractor bids. Those expire this month. (An Orlando Sentinel story from April 12 reports that some members of the arts-center board may be willing to personally contribute to the project in order to further reduce the funding gap.)

Mayor Jacobs, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Jim Pugh, board chairman of the performing arts center, agreed in February to the formation of the non-profit OCCC to oversee construction of the project, assuming that responsibility from the DPAC and Hines, its program development partner.

“During discussions with the county, they expressed a lack of confidence in how DPAC and Hines had managed the job,” Ackert says. Three members of the Hines team will stay on as part of the new owner’s rep team, which will ensure the center’s construction will be on budget and consistent with the interlocal agreement.

The OCCC selection committee ranked six short-listed firms and chose PCL. PCL will review Balfour Beatty’s construction management contract, including general conditions, the bid process and whether the project received a good market response. It will also evaluate value-engineering options and deferrals. For instance, perhaps copper cladding is not necessary on the doors. The owner’s rep will also assess the cost of the city’s “fair living wage” requirement, which could lead to negotiations between the county and city. The PCL team will report to the OCCC by May 9.

Residents who are looking forward to attending events at a modern PAC and those in the construction community will be watching to see if PCL and the OCCC can turn this project around and get it off the ground.