Perlman mistakenly tells lawmakers work was bid

Harvey Perlman

When the Nebraska Legislature was considering a $25 million request last year to further develop Innovation Campus, the Appropriations Committee had a few questions.

Committee members wanted more details about the project's finances and the university's relationship with the developer. Among the questions they submitted to the university: Was the contract for the project's developer competitively bid?

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman assured state senators during a campus visit in October that it was.

He walked lawmakers through his written response to the question and detailed a two-round, national process of solicitation that the Nebraska Innovation Campus Development Corp. used before selecting Woodbury Corp., a partner of local company Tetrad Property Group.

But no public solicitation ever happened.

Records show there was no national process to select the lead developer. The corporation never published a request for proposals.

Instead, Perlman — then the chairman of the development corporation — sent letters in August 2010 to two developers and asked if they were interested in partnering with the development corporation.

Perlman wrote in the letters to Woodbury and Noddle Companies that the Innovation Campus board was considering issuing a national request for information or a request for proposals to determine the level of interest.

But Perlman said only Woodbury was interested in pursuing it, and the development corporation selected Woodbury.

After The World-Herald requested records on the competitive process, Perlman said in an email that he had been mistaken in saying the project was competitively bid.

He said he remembered calling "several" firms to gauge interest in the project, although he had written records of contacting only two. Having a local firm involved gave the campus a better working relationship with the developer, Perlman said.

"I can't imagine a national developer would: (1) accept financial risk, and at the same time (2) give up control as to who the tenants might be," Perlman said in the email.

Woodbury, which is based in Utah, withdrew from the project in 2014, leaving only Tetrad.

The campus grand opening was held in October. Two of the buildings are owned by Tetrad. University tenants are paying roughly $5 million a year in leases and maintenance costs.

At a November hearing before the Legislature, State Sen. Matt Williams announced that the university would "hit the pause button" on that $25 million request he sponsored for the Innovation Campus, saying the development corporation needed to develop a clearer business plan and accountability measures for the project.

Williams is on the development corporation's board of directors.

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