1. Business

Bidding group accuses Fair Authority of breaking law

Published Jan. 4, 2014

One of the groups bidding to develop land at the Florida State Fairgrounds accused its board of breaking state law Friday.

Barney Bishop, a consultant for Sovereign Investments, said his clients would consider suing unless the Fair Authority's board agrees to start over with the bidding process to lease and develop part of the fairgrounds. Bishop sent a letter to the Fair Authority on Friday outlining his problems with the bidding rules set up by the board, among them a $50,000 fee.

"What is this, pay to play?" Bishop said in an interview. "That's what it sounds like."

The Fair Authority's board is looking for a company to lease and develop part of its 331 acres along Interstate 4, east of Tampa. Sovereign Investments has discussed an exhibition hall and multilevel parking garage on the west portion of the fairgrounds. A group led by former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco has previously explored hotels, shops and a sports complex.

In response to Bishop's letter, Fair Authority executive director Chuck Pesano said: "The board went through extreme efforts to make sure it was an open and fair process."

Pesano declined to reply to legal criticisms by Bishop or his attorneys at the Gray Robinson law firm, who concluded the bidding process was illegal. Pesano deferred legal questions to attorney William Stainton.

Stainton said he strongly disagrees with Bishop's position that the board broke state law.

"Frankly, what's really happened here, to me, is Mr. Bishop approached the board and requested special treatment for his client. They declined … and now he's trying to disrupt the whole process," he said.