RSA Tower – The Prequalification Disaster

The prequalification procedure that Ron Blount and I employed to screen the bidders on the RSA Tower was an absolute disaster. Yet, the need to restrict the work to experienced contractors was obvious. Very few Alabama contractors had ever built a 12-story building, much less a 24-story structure. And few of those had successfully completed the type “high-end quality” that we were demanding.

Tower soapboxHuber, Hunt & Nichols turned in an impressive resume for our consideration. The stand-alone Phoenix branch noted below had completed work all over the west and much of the east, including the GTE headquarters in Dallas; the Pyramid Arena in Memphis; the 40-story San Diego Hyatt Regency; the Proctor & Gamble headquarters in Cincinnati; Pitney-Bowes World Headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut; the Merrill-Lynch Corporate Campus in Plainsboro, NJ; Rupp Arena in Lexington; Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and Hughes Aircraft Research Labs in Malibu. In Plano, Texas, alone, HH&N had built the Municipal Building, the Civic Center, the Frito-Lay Tech Center and the J.C. Penney Headquarters. Huber-Hunt even listed in its credits the 55 Water Street office building in New York City.

PH&J took terrible hits for recommending the award to an out-of-state firm, and as a result good relationships, decades old, were dissolved. Even the Advertiser jumped on us. But that’s how it’s supposed to be done. You set the table, invite qualified bidders to spend upwards of $250,000 preparing a bid, and if they are low they get the award. Huber-Hunt had even rented the State Coliseum as its bid headquarters during the bid period.

Grandfather Hunt had founded Huber, Hunt & Nichols in Indianapolis almost 50 years before, and his enterprise had been vastly successful.  The company had established branches all around the country.  A “stand-alone” branch was located in Phoenix, Arizona, and was headed by the Hunt grandson and heir apparent, Robert G. Hunt.  Because of his family connection, young Hunt was given much latitude and support, and he built a branch that concentrated on quality work, with a lesser regard for the bottom line.  It was the Phoenix Branch of Huber-Hunt that we approved to bid the RSA Tower.hunt logo

As fate often decrees, right after we had taken bids, the hand was re-dealt.  Founder Hunt died, and his grandson was called home to Indianapolis to take the helm of the vast operation.  His branch back in Phoenix was dissolved and its projects were assigned to a semi-dormant, understaffed Dallas branch.  The Dallas branch was then given to a very nice man named Doug Williams, and he came to Montgomery right after the bidding to assure us that everything would be handled just as we had anticipated.  Doug Williams was a class guy, but as you will see, that class availed us not. To our dismay, he quit HH&N in frustration before our job was even half finished. He and his wife visited yours truly in Montgomery on more than one occasion, even after our business relationship had dissolved.

Contractors Article

This 1993 Article from the trade magazine, BUILDING DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION, which named the 70 Biggest Contractors in the United States, affords a Perspective on the Tower Contractor

-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many RSA Tower stories. The rest can be found here.

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